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Editorial: Humble politics needed from Japan PM after LDP wins single-party majority

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) maintained a single-party majority in the Oct. 31 House of Representatives election held for the first time in four years. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will continue to take over the reins of government.

    In regards to the election results, the prime minister stressed that he "won the confidence" of the people. The poll, however, also revealed the public's distrust of LDP politics that has continued for nine years following the party's victory in a general election in 2012, with its secretary general Akira Amari and several former ministers losing in the single-seat constituency.

    Is it possible for the LDP-led government to regain the trust it lost after it fell steps behind in responding to the coronavirus pandemic? Can we trust Kishida, who had just taken office as prime minister, to lead the way during this difficult time? These were the questions posed during the election.

    The LDP changed the "face of the election" from former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who had become unpopular, to Kishida just before the poll, and moved up the general election by one week from the original schedule. The situation was favorable to the LDP as the approval rating of the Cabinet recovered thanks to the newly elected prime minister, but close contests in which LDP candidates lost to the opposition stood out in urban areas.

    The prime minister must take to heart that the government cannot regain the trust of the people by just using manipulative tactics.

    Kishida, who has been in office for less than a month, has no track record as prime minister, and whether he can break away from the politics brought in by his predecessors Shinzo Abe and Suga was a focal point of the election. In the nine years since Abe took office for the second time, we have seen multiple instances that have driven the public to lose trust in politics.

    Policy missteps continued in the government's response to the pandemic. It failed to prevent the spread of infections as it was preoccupied with the resumption of economic activities. Many COVID-19 patients died at home as efforts to secure hospital beds could not keep up with the number of patients. Support measures for people in need, as well as eateries that had no choice but to temporarily close business didn't reach those who needed them.

    Economic policies have led to widening disparities. The rich gained financially under the "Abenomics" economic policy mix, which put emphasis on growth and efficiency, while the number of non-regular workers increased.

    The government's attitude of disregarding the Diet and not listening to any objections became more and more conspicuous. Questions regarding money scandals involving LDP lawmakers were left unanswered. Policies such as security-related laws over which public opinion was divided were railroaded by the sheer force of numbers as the ruling parties occupied a overwhelming majority in the Diet. Confidence in public administration wavered due to favoritism scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution.

    During the LDP presidential election, Kishida warned of a "crisis of democracy," and set out a shift from status-quo politics. Reviewing neoliberal policies and promoting redistribution of wealth to reduce disparities were pillars of Kishida's argument.

    However, Kishida's "color" faded away during the lower house election campaign, as he seemed to trace the steps of Abenomics by emphasizing growth rather than distribution in his speeches.

    He was also reluctant to reexamine the issue of government tampering with public records involving Moritomo Gakuen, and to tackle money scandals. The defeat in the single-seat constituency for Amari, who faces allegations of taking bribes, symbolizes voters' distrust of such an attitude by Kishida.

    Meanwhile, the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) fielded unified candidates in over 70% of single-seat constituencies across the country with four other opposition parties including the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) and the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP), and built a united front.

    This was a move based on the lessons learned from the previous general election in 2017 when the largest opposition Democratic Party split. Although the CDP was able to form a face-off between the ruling coalition parties and opposition forces this time, it failed to raise expectations for a change of power.

    Despite growing public dissatisfaction with the current state of politics, the opposition parties failed to fully respond to the will of the people. The CDP must verify its tactics in cooperating with the JCP, among other strategies.

    The conservative opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) made its case for a "reformation" and significantly increased its seats in the lower house. The party succeeded in becoming an outlet for those critical of the LDP and the CDP.

    The pandemic has made many people aware that politics is directly linked to their lives. Still, voter turnout did not rise substantially. This is probably because the ruling and opposition parties failed to clearly present the points at issue.

    There are many challenges that the Kishida administration must tackle. Urgent tasks include reducing disparities, balancing between coronavirus countermeasures and economic activities, and responding to the declining population. The prime minister's ability to execute policies will be tested.

    In a campaign speech he delivered on the streets, Kishida said, "I want to promote politics that is tolerant and with care based on trust and empathy." If he really means this, then Kishida must start by frankly admitting the problems of Abe and Suga politics, and break free of them. A humble and attentive administration is required.

    A House of Councillors election will be held next summer. Unlike this time, the achievements of the Kishida administration will be up for public judgement. Opposition parties will also be asked how to confront the ruling coalition after recapping the latest lower house race.

    A full-scale parliamentary debate will begin later this month. What kind of a nation does the prime minister aim to create amid the coronavirus crisis? We expect constructive discussions to be held.

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