On July 3, the day before the House of Councillors election campaign kickoff, a debate among the heads of seven major political parties was held at the Japan National Press Club.
The issue of pensions and other social security-related policy; an assessment of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pet "Abenomics" economic policy mix; constitutional amendment; and foreign diplomacy and national security are among the issues that will be disputed in the election, and took up most of the debate.
But not only did none of the party leaders address the problem of depopulation head-on, there was no active discussion on how to deal with the anxiety many citizens feel about the future. Both the ruling and opposition parties must make efforts to further debate about the future during the campaign.
On the issue of pensions, Prime Minister Abe's explanation of a controversial pension report -- dawn up by the government's own Financial Services Agency (FSA) panel and estimating that the average couple would face a 20-million-yen shortfall under the pension system if they were to enjoy a 30-year retirement -- consisted solely of affirmations that the current system was sufficient. But Abe's handling of Finance Minister and Financial Service Minister Taro Aso -- who also serves as deputy prime minister -- refusing to accept the FSA report, and the fact that the issue was not even discussed in the Diet made it seem as if Abe didn't think the problem concerned him. Such an attitude cannot be seen as sincere consideration of the public's doubts and concerns.
Meanwhile, Yukio Edano, head of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), emphasized that while a non-partisan mid- to long-term discussion on social security was necessary, priority must be placed on the problems right before us: seniors who are struggling day-to-day with low pension payouts. If he is hoping to take over the reins of government someday, then he should communicate his future vision in much clearer terms.
Opposition parties are all against the consumption tax hike planned for October from the current rate of 8% to 10%. This is likely a response to criticism from the ruling party that the opposition has no "counterproposals." Edano, among others, proposed higher taxes for the wealthy and for corporations, but can such taxes become a permanently stable source of revenue in lieu of the consumption tax? More deliberation is needed.
The coming upper house election will be a chance for voters to offer their evaluations on the achievements of the Abe administration, which has been in power for 6 1/2 years. However, during the debate, the prime minister merely referred to figures that conveniently showed himself in a good light, like the jobs-to-applicants ratio, and bragged that he had "brought Japan out of a state of deflation in an extremely short amount of time."
The same goes for diplomacy. When asked about the negotiations over the Northern Territories with Russia, which have reached a stalemate despite Tokyo making multiple compromises, he turned defiant and said, "Would simple chest-thumping bring us to a solution, then?" When the debate pivoted toward U.S. President Donald Trump's doubts about the Japan-U.S. security treaty, Abe only went as far as to say that he has been explaining the importance of the pact to Trump, and suppressed further discussion on the topic.
To cover up inconvenient issues is to belittle and disrespect voters. We hope the upcoming election is one in which both the ruling and opposition blocs grow out of such tactics.