The official campaign for the House of Councilors election has started. The ballot counting date will be July 10.
Japan has a bicameral system, and the House of Representatives has stronger authority in terms of election of the Prime Minister, adoption of budget, and approval of treaties. The House of Councilors was reorganized from the prewar House of Lords, and was initially explained as a place for high-level discussions away from party politics. However, now that the election system is similar in both houses, the composition of the members of the House of Councilors is almost the same as that of the House of Representatives.
In short, the House of Councilors is merely a sort of minor-league institution compared with the House of Representatives. There is no particular difference in the content of the discussion from the House of Representatives. If the ruling and opposition parties are composed differently from the House of Representatives, as we experienced several years ago, it will only delay the deliberation of the Diet and cause the inefficiency. I am convinced that the first thing to do in the constitutional amendment is to abolish the House of Councilors, so as to improve political efficiency and reduce national expenses.
The members of the House of Councilors enjoy a long term of six years not be dissolved during that period, so that they are not disturbed by daily political situations. The House of Councilors election is held every three years, and half of the members are re-elected. Therefore, the people have to continue to tolerate the results of the election six years ago. When the country needs an urgent change in policy, the stability of the status of Upper House members is a major obstacle.
So, I have a very negative evaluation of the House of Councilors. (see also this article)
In the first place, I am full of distrust about Japan's parliamentary or party system. I believe that the most parliamentarians are not eligible for their positions. They are eager to become members of parliament which enables them to enjoy special privilege, power and wealth in the Japanese society. On the other hand, they are not experienced and capable in creating and undertaking various policy measures. I even wonder whether they seriously want to contribute to the nation or the people. The Japanese political parties are made of such parliamentarians and they do not possess any capable think-tanks employing good policy researchers to create necessary policy measures. Therefore, we cannot expect any political party to think up good ideas to solve the immenent problems. When it comes to substance, they rely almost entirely on bureaucrats. And if they themselves bear the brunt of criticism, they blame the bureaucrats.
What should we do to reform the present situation?
In Japan, the people still choose individual candidates in the election, and not the policy measures of political parties. The people vote the candidates who are well-known in the media such as TV personalities and athletes. Many conservative candidates have special connections to the local influencers and reformist candidates are trying to show their capabilities in condemning the conservative government. Such factors are important in the decision making of the voters. On the other hand, I have never experienced a decent policy debate in the election campaign. With a handful of exceptions, it seems unlikely that candidates well understand the policies needed to steer national affairs and are working to achieve them. Japanese political parties are merely mutual assisting organizations for politicians to be elected, and do little of the function of political party politics to think about policies and realize them.
Therefore, It is natural that the voter turnout is low, because the people cannot expect that political parties or politicians will realize something which are necessary for them.
The issue of the necessity of amending Article 9 of the Constitution, which is the most important topic of ideological disputes rather than policy debates, is related to the difference between militarism and pacifism rather than conservatism and reformism. Some pacifists are among the conservative parties, and some militarists are among the reformist parties. However, in face of the increasing danger coming from the Japan's neighboring non-democratic nations, such as China's recent military strengthening and hegemonistic stance, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and North Korea's accelerated development of nuclear weapons and missiles, it is certain that more and more Japanese are blunting their peace consciousness to keep Article 9 of the Constitution.
To my regret, I cannot but say that the Japanese people are not aware enough of how seriously Japan’s colonization of Korea and Japan’s invasion in China and other neighboring countries hurt the people of those countries. Recently the media often report on young people who are ignorant about the damages and sufferings by the War including the atomic bombs and the ground battle in Okinawa. Older peaple often tell that the bitter war experience should not be forgotten. However, they usually refer to the cases where the Japanese people were victimes. We rarely hear about the disasters caused by our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers to our neighbors. I think what our ancestors did to them is really an underlying reason why for example we have still very difficult relations with our nearest neighboring country South Korea.
Militarists are trying to deny the Tokyo Tribunal, justify visiting Yasukuni Shrine and justify Japan's past actions. However, the Tokyo Tribunal was not what China or Korea undertook but the US. Have the militarists forgotten this basic fact? The current Japanese stance is possible as long as the United States sees Japan useful for its interests and tolerates Japan's behavior. Contrary to the nationalists before the WWII, they do not attach importance to the independence of Japan, and are flattering to the United States and are hostile to neighboring countries which they look down on. Therefore, I by no means judge them as loyal to the Japanese national interests.
However, I think the security debate in the election campaign is rather at an abstract stage, including armament enhancement, and is nothing more than an atmosphere. In contrast to that, economic and social policy is at the center of the opposition's criticism of the ruling party and the focul issue of the election of the House of Councilors.
Due to the Covid-19, economic and social activities have been hindered for more than two years from 2020 like many other countries, and many people are suffering financially. Especially recently, energy prices and raw material prices have been skyrocketing due to the war in Ukraine. In addition, the US and Europe have raised domestic interest rates as a measure against inflation, and the policy gap with Japan, which remains at low interest rates for economic measures, is widening. This has been causing the devaluation of yen; Dollar-Yen rate fell from 115 yen in March to 135 yen in late June, and the prices of daily necessities that depend on imports began to rise.
I think it really difficult to come up with adequate policy packages to bail out from this difficult economic situation.
Both the ruling and opposition parties have promised to the electorate that they support from the budget money the people who have been seriously affected by the price hike. However, the ruling party seems to be aware of its responsibility for financial management and fiscal consolidation cannot be completely forgotten.
Opposition parties, on the other hand, say that they should pay anything with the government budget, and at the same time insist on the elimination, suspension or drastic reduction of the 10% consumption tax to alleviate the burden on the people. How can Japan's finances stand by quitting the consumption tax? Where does the money come from? I want to tell them to stop deceiving the people.
Japan's cumulative government debt is currently over 1,000 trillion yen. With the issuance of deficit-financing bonds that have continued since the mid-1990s, each Japanese person has now a debt of about 10 million yen (more than 70,000 dollars even at the today’s cheaper yen-dollar rate). The ratio of accumulated debt to GDP is over 250%, which is by far the largest among the industrialized countries in the West and double that of the United States. Instead of reducing the accumulated debt, the speed of increase of the accumulated debt is accelerating recently due to measures against corona.
Simply speaking, this is the result of coward behaviour of politicians to fear the loss of voters by raising tax. As a result, everybody has come to be accustomed to live on debt.
This year, government bonds are planned to finance 37 trillion yen, which is more than one-third of the initial budget of 100 trillion yen in the 2022 general account. But don't be surprised by this. This figure just relates to the initial plan of the year, and if the supplementary budget for measures against corona is included, the dependence on government bonds was 74% in FY2020 and 46% in FY2021. Looking at the payment side, In FY2022, 24 trillion yen, which is a quarter of initial general account expenditure, is used for interest payments and redemptions of government bonds. The recent rapid increase in government bond issuance shows that government bond costs will surely explode in the near future.
Apart from the additional budget for corona measures, 36.3 trillion yen, which is one-third of the initial budget, is devoted to pension and medical expenses, and is used to support the lives of the people. On the other hand, the consumption tax rpresents 20% of the gorvernmet income, 21.6 trillion yen. What will happen to pensions and medical expenses if the consumption tax is completely abolished or drastically reduced? Opposition politicians often say that we should cut the salaries for civil servants. Do they really believe that the salary cut will contribute to the solution of budget problem.? I cannot but think that they are telling an evil joke. Even if all national civil servants are fired and their salaries are reduced to zero, only about 5 trillion yen can be saved, which is not enough to fill the national budget deficit.
Their argument that all expenses should be financed by additional government bonds means that more than half of the government's initial budget must be financed by deficit bonds, which will lead to a further surge in accumulated debt. And issued bonds must be repaid by future generations. If investors doubt the financial situation in Japan, they would withdraw their funds from Japan to foreign countries, and the Japanese economy will collapse.
It is irresponsible to say that the accumulation of government debt has no such risk. There is no way we can abolish the consumption tax or reduce the tax rate, instead we should raise the consumption tax rate to the level common in the European countries.
Another thing I seriously care about is the nuclear power plant policy. As former Prime Minister Koizumi said (Unfortunately, after his retirement) , there is no prospect of final disposal of nuclear waste in Japan. In addition, as is clear from the Fukushima nuclear accident 10 years ago, once an accident occurs, there is no prospect of how many decades it will take to recover. Unlike Chernobyl where the nuclear power plant was covered by concrete sarcophagus, Japan does not possess a vast land which we are ready to give up. Nevertheless, the safety measures of the electric power companies that operate nuclear power plants are completely unreliable, as evidenced by the fact that various irresponsible accidents occur frequently. I do not want to hear any more the irresponsible excuse by responsible persons that the accident was "beyond their professional expectations".
Speaking of renewable energy, so-called experts always say that renewable-energy is not a stable power supply source. However, why hasn't there been extensive research and deelopment efforts to make it a stable power supply? When it comes to the question of power storage, various types of batteries are always mentioned, but sufficient power storage cannot be realized with batteries alone. When I lived in Denmark at the beginning of this century, a plant was already testing technologies to produce and store hydrogen from wind power generator, and power generation using the stored hydrogen. I heard that in 2020, the world's largest hydrogen production facility using solar energy "H2R" was built in Japan. However, it does not seem to be a facility used to stabilize the power supply by returning hydrogen to electricity.
Why not put more efforts into research and development of energy saving as well? There is no doubt that Japan can lead the world in energy-saving technologies if it earnestly strives to their research and development. Japan is endowed neither with fossile energy resources nor with vast land. Therefore, we are destined to develop renewable and efficient energy production and usage.
So why are many politicians trying to return to nuclear power easily? Aren't they fearful about the possible damage caused by another nuclear accidents? Aren't they worrying about the availability of the final waste disposal place? I cannot accept the simplistic or commercially driven thinking of the ruling party that it is necessary to restart old nuclear power plants to overcome the global warming problem of reducing CO2 emissions, while neglecting high risks caused by the use of nuclear energy.
The Democratic Party announced zero nuclear power immediately after the Fukushima nuclear accident under Noda Administration. But, the successor party, the Constitutional Democratic Party, seems to have forgot the non-nuclear policy. At least it does not try to appealed to the public at all. When nuclear plants came to be restarted, Democratic Party did not try to oppose to the decision. Are the members of the Constitutional Democratic Party serious about realizing their policy goals? Do they serious about what they insist for their country and its people? Do they really want to contribute to the rosy future of Japan and its people? They simply want to take over the Government, don’t they?
In short, the opposition has no reliable policy. Opposition parties are just screaming; if we take the government, we will borrow money and distribute them among the people, so please vote us! The poverty of Japanese politics is that most politicians are motivated by their personal ambitions to become parliamentarians and ministers and that they have no policy to take with conviction for the country and its people. I think, political parties must study and discuss properly as a party, formulate specialized policies, and send people who can implement them to the Diet and the government as politicians. I think it is the culmination of disregard for the Diet and democracy to select candidatures from TV personalities or athletes, who have no political experience and are simply well-known through media, or from disabled people who cannot move or talk properly as members of parliament.
Therefore, it is a matter of course that the percentage of "no supporting party" is the highest in any poll. I can't find any political party that I can trust.
In the 1990s and at the turn of the century, Japan twice had a government without the LDP. However, the government, which was established with the expectations of the people, achieved no fruits but gave us only disillusionment.
Looking at the statements of the leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party, the successor to the Democratic Party today, we have the impression that they have forgotten what they have done or they want to hide their mistakes from the people.Would the people want to entrust the government to such a party, no matter how much it becomes necessary to change the government, without any reflection or summarization of what they have done before? What the LDP is doing is inadequate, but it is at least the experience of politically interested people that the opposition would worsen the situation.
The Abe long-term government and the Suga government, which were formed after the Democratic Party's government had collapsed, impressed us with their nepotism, arrogance and avoidance of responsibility. They were internationally flattering to dictators and looking down on the weak neighbors. None of the issues expected for the long-term stable government could be resolved, except for the consumption tax increase by 2%. Now Prime Minister Kishida looks somewhat more sensible and conscientious than his predecessors. We are not fully happy with his administration, but it's a little better than before. It seems natural that the support of the people is gradually increasing.
Under such circumstances, in the election of the House of Councilors, it seems important for us to behave carefully so that candidates of LDP and other parties taking militarist and derogatory attitude will lose as much support as possible.