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Upper House Victories Will Allow Kishida to Pursue Constitutional Revision and Other Agenda Items

07 Jul 2022
By Dr Ted Gover
Source: Flickr, Finnish Government,

As Japan goes to the polls on 10 July, the ruling coalition looks set for a decisive victory. Such a result would pave the way for Kishida Fumio to implement his policies, and perhaps even set the stage for amending Japan’s Constitution.

With polls indicating that the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito Party ruling coalition is on course for victory in the approaching July 10 upper house elections, Prime Minister Kishida will have an increased mandate to pursue desired policies for possibly up to three years until the next required national election in 2025.

A July 1 Nikkei poll found that the ruling coalition could win up to as many as 80 seats — beyond Kishida’s stated goal of winning 63 of the 125 seats in play.

Other polls by the Japan News Network and Jiji Press indicate that together the LDP-Komeito Party coalition, and two opposition parties which are supportive of some of the ruling coalition’s platform ‒ the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) and the Democratic Party for the People (DPP) ‒ may win enough upper house seats to account for three-quarters of the chamber.

Due to the projected upper house victories of the Prime Minister’s ruling coalition, one policy that has been the subject of much discussion is the revision of Japan’s Constitution, a document that has not been amended in its 75 year history. Changes to the Constitution require two-thirds support of lawmakers in both the Upper and Lower Houses of the Japanese Parliament followed by a simple majority in a nationwide public referendum.

The proposed change concerns Article 9, a symbol of Japan’s peaceful postwar identity, which outlaws war and offensive forces. Some constitutional scholars assert that the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) ‒ the unified air, sea, and ground forces of the country ‒ violate the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

Prime Minister Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party along with the Komeito Party, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) and the Democratic Party for the People (DPP) have voiced support to amend Article 9. The idea is to insert into the Constitution a reference to the SDF to clarify its legal status while keeping in place the first two clauses of Article 9 that renounce the right to wage war and bans the maintenance of a standing military.

Other defence-related measures that Kishida is likely to lay the groundwork for include a doubling of defence spending over the next five years, the development of “counterattack” and missile defense capabilities, and addressing China’s threats to Taiwan and the broader region by strengthening ties with countries that share similar security concerns. Such like-minded states are likely to include its fellow Quad members, select Pacific Island nations, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, the Philippines, Vietnam, and possibly South Korea.

A separate policy area which Prime Minister Kishida has committed resources and political capital to involves assisting households and companies with the rising costs brought about by inflation and a yen at a 24-year low. To this end, he has voiced backing for a supplementary budget of ten trillion yen (US$77 billion) to stimulate the economy and help businesses and families cope with higher prices.

While on the campaign trail, Kishida has touted his administration’s efforts with “promoting preferential treatment” for companies that are “working on raising wages”. He has also announced plans to raise the minimum wage to 1,000 Yen (US$7.40) to support irregular workers.

Additionally, Prime Minister Kishida will implement his cabinet-approved “new form of capitalism” plan that seeks to make society more equitable while maintaining economic growth and political stability. Part of this will involve wealth redistribution with the aim of narrowing inequality among the Japanese people.

This initiative provides funds in four fields — science and technology, people, green and digital technology, and startups. Under the plan, investments are to be made in digitalisation, wage raises, and training and education for irregular employees. The plan also calls for public-private partnerships focused on addressing wealth inequality, economic growth, climate change, and savings account expansions. Research and development resources will be directed to AI, biotechnology, and quantum computing.

As part of the plan, households will be encouraged to move their savings into mutual funds and stocks. Tax regulations will be changed to allow up to 1.2 million Yen (US$9,370) of tax-free investment a year for the next five years. The “new form of capitalism” will also include a program that will correlate the repayment of student loans to one’s income after graduating from university.

Perhaps the most urgent policy issue on Kishida’s plate, however, is the current electricity shortfalls facing Japan. This energy emergency has been caused by various factors. Among the causes are already-expensive oil, gas, and coal prices that have soared even further due to shortages brought about by the war in Ukraine and the weakening yen.

Making matters worse, renewable energy makes up a small portion (ten percent) of Japan’s energy supply, and more than two-thirds of Japan’s nuclear reactors have not been in operation since the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. Furthermore, the country’s recent heat wave ‒ its most severe in 150 years ‒ has threatened to deplete the national electricity supply.

To address the energy crisis, Kishida has pledged to “promote the resumption of nuclear power plant operations with safety being a prerequisite” and “combine energy resources to stabilize prices.”

Concerning COVID, the prime minister has defended his pandemic policy, emphasizing that Japan’s COVID death rate is the lowest in the G7 and the country’s successful vaccination numbers. Kishida has also highlighted his administration’s plans to create a new infectious disease outbreaks agency and a Japanese version of the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Going forward, however, Kishida is likely to maintain his current approach of reopening the economy amid the present omicron variant increases. This is in part due to the decreasing importance voters are placing upon the pandemic. According to a June 22-23 Asahi Shimbun poll, just five percent of voters say COVID policy is a determining factor for supporting an upper house candidate.

If the polls are correct, the upper house ruling coalition is likely to add significantly to its majority on July 10. Such a victory would allow Prime Minister Kishida the option of dedicating up to three uninterrupted years to implement his policies. This “golden era” opportunity could provide Kishida with the time and space to pursue his stated goals, defining his legacy and time in office.

Ted Gover, Ph.D. (@tedgover) is Associate Clinical Professor at Claremont Graduate University in Los Angeles.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.