参院選民主敗北 バラマキと迷走に厳しい審判

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jul. 13, 2010)
Voters give DPJ policy the thumbs-down
参院選民主敗北 バラマキと迷走に厳しい審判(7月12日付・読売社説)

Voters have passed a stinging judgment on the Democratic Party of Japan's 10 months in government since it came to power following last summer's general election.

The DPJ suffered a crushing defeat in Sunday's House of Councillors election and fell far short of the 54 seats targeted by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who also is DPJ president. Justice Minister Keiko Chiba lost her seat. The DPJ and its tiny coalition partner, the People's New Party, failed to hold their majority in the 242-seat upper house, including uncontested seats.

The election has led to a divided Diet in which the House of Representatives is controlled by the ruling camp and the upper chamber by opposition parties. To gain a majority in the upper house, the DPJ has no alternative but to stitch together a coalition with one or more opposition parties.

At a news conference after the election, Kan insisted he would stay on, saying, "I would like to continue to responsibly manage the government." However, Kan's political clout has undeniably been weakened. Political chaos is all but certain as moves grow within the DPJ demanding the party leadership--including Kan--take responsibility for the election loss.

Kan's handling of the consumption tax issue was the biggest factor behind the DPJ's setback.

Kan hinted the rate could be lifted to 10 percent, a move echoing the Liberal Democratic Party's campaign pledge. But Kan failed to properly explain the purpose of the tax increase and how the revenue would be used. He compounded his problems by making inconsistent remarks on tax refunds for low-income earners.

The DPJ was not unified on the consumption tax. Some party members openly opposed Kan's tax policy.

Of course, other factors also contributed to the election defeat, including political funding scandals that tainted former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and former party Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa; the Hatoyama administration's bumbling of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture; and deadlock over handout policies such as child-rearing allowances.


LDP's strategy successful

The LDP won the most seats contested Sunday, topping the number snared by the DPJ. The LDP's election tactics, such as fielding rookie candidates handpicked from public applicants, proved successful.

Nevertheless, it is premature to conclude the LDP has made a full recovery.

The LDP rode to victory largely thanks to the DPJ's shortcomings. The LDP fared worse than the DPJ in the proportional representation bloc elections. Many voters probably were counting on the LDP to prevent the DPJ from "running wild."

Your Party made major gains by attracting voters disillusioned with both major parties. The party called for slashing the number of government employees and abolishing amakudari--a practice in which high-ranking government officials parachute into cushy jobs after retirement.

The party now has a responsibility to act in a manner befitting the number of seats it holds. The party might have to rethink some of its policies and behavior that smack of populism.

Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe, who had set the goal of positioning his party to hold a decisive say in the Diet, should not whip up political turmoil by taking advantage of the seats his party gained in Sunday's election.


Promote tax debate

A hallmark of this election campaign was that the two major parties--the DPJ and the LDP--did not sidestep debate on a consumption tax hike.

According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey during the campaign, two-thirds of respondents said a tax hike will be "necessary." This indicates public understanding of a consumption tax hike has solidified.

On the campaign trail, Kan called for suprapartisan discussions on sweeping tax system reform, including an increase in the consumption tax. The LDP, for its part, wants a similar roundtable discussion on the matter.

But it is unreasonable to launch such a debate while the DPJ-led government charges ahead with child-rearing allowances and other cash handouts. A responsible government would only enter discussions on a consumption tax hike after reviewing such handout policies.

The DPJ and the LDP both should make concessions to start talks on the matter.

The end of August is the deadline for deciding on a construction method for a runaway at a replacement facility for the Futenma base and other relocation details. The government must follow through on the Futenma agreement reached with the United States and get bilateral ties back on track before U.S. President Barack Obama visits Japan in November.

The DPJ's election loss could embolden a group of party members who support Ozawa to strengthen moves to shake up the party leadership ahead of the party's presidential election in September.

But if Kan changes tack on the consumption tax and Futenma issue in the face of intraparty opposition, public confidence in his government will fade even further.

Kan should maintain the pragmatic approach to domestic and diplomatic issues he adopted in a major break from the line taken by the Hatoyama administration.

The DPJ commands an absolute majority in the lower house. But the DPJ and the PNP hold fewer than two-thirds of the seats in the lower house, the threshold at which the ruling bloc can approve again--and pass--a bill voted down in the upper house.

Consequently, the Kan administration will face a more difficult job in steering Diet business than the LDP-led administrations of three former prime ministers--Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda and Taro Aso--that also found themselves in a divided Diet.


Policy-based coalition needed

At the news conference, Kan said he would reach out to opposition parties to hold policy discussions and try to build a coalition government.

He should remember that the coalition with the Social Democratic Party blew up in the DPJ's face because their security policies had little in common. The major premise for a coalition government should be that the parties involved share basic policies.

With the next lower house election in mind, many opposition parties have said they will not join a coalition government. Therefore, the government will inevitably pursue a noncabinet partnership or a partial coalition with an opposition party on certain bills.

Many hurdles loom for the Kan administration, including an extraordinary Diet session and a DPJ presidential election.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 12, 2010)
(2010年7月12日03時55分 読売新聞)

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