Official campaigning began Wednesday in Japan for the House of Councillors election on July 10, as the ruling and opposition parties rush to address inflation concerns and spar over whether a more robust defense posture is necessary in the wake of Russia's war on Ukraine.
A total of 125 seats are up for grabs in the 248-member upper house, with over 530 people expected to file their candidacies.
The triennial election is a critical test for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to gauge voter confidence in his handling of government after nearly nine months spent bolstering the country's COVID-19 response, taking a tough stance on Russia and scrambling to ease the pain on households from rising prices of energy and everyday items like food.
The Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Kishida, aims to maintain a majority of the seats in the upper house with its coalition partner Komeito, which would allow them to stably run the government for the next three years.
"This election has put under the spotlight who can deliver results in facing major challenges including the rebuilding of Fukushima, the fight against the novel coronavirus, response to the Ukraine crisis and rising prices," Kishida said in a stump speech in Fukushima, which suffered meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant following the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
"We need political stability to overcome these challenges," the premier said as he called for voters' support.
With half of the 248 seats uncontested, the target is seen as not high as the ruling coalition only needs to win 56 seats this time, down from the 69 seats they had before the election.
Rising prices are making both the ruling and opposition parties wary of their impact on the campaign. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is taking issue with a lack of concrete steps by the government to alleviate consumer worries and calling it "Kishida inflation."
"We cannot tolerate politics that ignore your lives and your household budgets," said CDPJ leader Kenta Izumi in Aomori, northeastern Japan, noting the LDP-led government has lacked a sense of urgency in addressing the issue.
"The CDPJ has been repeatedly saying this price increase has a negative impact on many people, and things are starting to change. Rising prices have become a point of contention in this election," Izumi said.
Kishida has rejected he is to blame over inflation, attributing the inflationary trend to Russia's invasion of Ukraine since late February that has sent energy and raw material prices soaring, a headache for resource-scarce Japan.
The war has also ramped up calls, especially within the LDP, for bolstering Japan's defense, accompanied by a sharp increase in related spending. The ruling party also wants to allow the nation -- long committed to an exclusively defense-oriented policy -- to acquire a "counterstrike" capability amid missile threats.
Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii said in Tokyo, "War or peace. Japan's fate depends on this election. We seek to advance by appealing we will stop war and bring hope to people's lives."
In Japan, upper house members serve six years, and half of the seats in the 248-member upper house are contested every three years. For the July election, 124 seats -- 74 in electoral districts and 50 by proportional representation -- are contested, together with one left vacant in the other half of the chamber.
One of the key numbers to watch is 82, which would give pro-constitutional revision forces the two-thirds majority of 166 seats in the upper house needed to initiate any revision to the Constitution when combined with those uncontested this time.
The LDP is aiming to "update" the supreme law that has never been amended since its 1946 promulgation, in part to explicitly mention the Self-Defense Forces in a revised version to clarify its status, and the opposition Japan Innovation Party is also pushing for an amendment.
While Kishida said in his speech he hopes to work on the revision, Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima said in an online program that her party is against the revision and warned, "If the forces for revising the Constitution secures two-thirds (of upper house seats) they will propose the revision."
In previous upper house elections, major opposition parties joined forces to counter the ruling coalition. Heading into the upcoming poll, the bloc remains fractured as only 11 districts will see a candidate from the opposition camp pitted against a ruling party rival.
The main opposition CDPJ and the smaller Democratic Party for the People have been diverging in recent months even as they share the same support base Rengo, or the Japanese Trade Union Confederation. The DPP is warming to the ruling coalition under the name of policy coordination.
The Japan Innovation Party, which more than tripled the number of its seats in the House of Representatives after the lower house election in October, is seeking to expand its growing support base beyond its stronghold in the Kansai region centering on Osaka.
The more powerful lower house is now also controlled by the ruling coalition.
The following is a comparison of campaign pledges made by major Japanese political parties on key issues for the House of Councillors election on July 10.
Liberal Democratic Party will:
-- increase defense spending over the next five years with an eye to an amount equivalent to 2 percent or more of GDP in line with NATO members.
-- enable Japan to acquire a "counterstrike" ability in view of ballistic missile threats from North Korea.
-- aim to "update" the Constitution at an early date by promoting parliamentary debate and putting a revision proposal to a national referendum.
-- work to bolster Japan's defense capability steadily while keeping to a long-standing exclusively-defense oriented policy.
-- uphold the long-held three nonnculear principles of not producing, possessing or allowing nuclear arms on its territory.
-- "consider" the need to add a reference to the Self-Defense Forces in the Constitution.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan will:
-- prioritize the quality, not size, of the defense budget.
-- promote defense policy under the Japan-U.S. alliance.
-- step up parliamentary debate on constitutional reform, oppose the idea of adding a reference to the SDF in war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.
The Japan Innovation Party will:
-- boost defense spending to 2 percent of more of GDP.
-- review the policy of keeping Japan's defense capability to a minimum necessary.
-- revise Article 9 of the Constitution while upholding pacifism.
The Japanese Communist Party will:
-- oppose doubling national defense spending, Japan's acquisition of a counterstrike capability.
-- oppose revising Article 9 to enable Japan to go to war.
The Democratic Party for the People will:
-- allow Japan to acquire a strike capability for self-defense.
-- boost defense spending as needed, review the Japan-U.S. status of forces agreement.
-- create a new clause in the Constitution to enable an extension to the terms of Diet members in case of contingency, advance debate on whether to revise Article 9.
-- take powerful and flexible measures against rising prices of goods and energy.
-- retain subsidies for oil wholesalers to bring down retail gasoline prices.
-- increase investment in human resources, ensure economic growth followed by fiscal restoration.
-- promote vaccinations, domestic development of treatment drugs.
-- raise the minimum wage and fix the pay gap between men and women.
-- increase lump sum childbirth, child-rearing benefits.
-- aim for the launch of new command center functions to cope with infectious diseases, similar to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
-- reduce the consumption tax temporarily from the current 10 percent to 5 percent.
-- revise an agreement between the government and the Bank of Japan to proceed with powerful monetary easing to achieve 2 percent inflation.
-- boost spending on programs related to child-rearing to around 3 percent of GDP.
-- create a "family doctor" system for infectious diseases so proper medical treatment will be provided to people at the risk of developing severe symptoms.
Japan Innovation Party will:
-- lower the consumption tax.
-- work on an exit strategy for monetary easing.
-- keep the corporate tax rate at 15 percent for small and midsize companies.
-- review the designation of COVID-19 to make it the same as the flu.
-- immediately cut the consumption tax from 10 percent to 5 percent.
-- call on major firms and wealthy people to shoulder higher tax burdens.
-- fundamentally review monetary easing launched under "Abenomics" policy, blamed for accelerating inflation.
-- strengthen regional health care systems and testing regimes.
-- ensure stronger wage growth with aggressive fiscal spending and monetary easing.
-- create a basic-income program that combines payouts and income tax refunds.
-- provide 100,000 yen ($730) to households to help counter inflation.
-- keep the economy going based on scientific evidence while taking steps to curb infections and boost testing.
-- aim to restart idled nuclear power plants that have passed strict safety standards.
-- promote maximum use of renewable energy.
-- gain consent from local municipalities before restarting nuclear power plants whose safety has been confirmed.
-- achieve a society that does not rely on nuclear power in the future, boost energy sufficiency.
-- realize carbon neutrality at the earliest possible date before 2050.
-- oppose construction of new nuclear power plants, restart of existing ones without local consent or proper emergency evacuation plans.
Japan Innovation Party will:
-- restart existing nuclear power plants that remain offline as soon as their safety is ensured.
-- promote research and development in the field of small modular reactors, phase out aging nuclear reactors.
-- strive for the immediate end to nuclear power generation.
-- cut dependence on coal-fired thermal power generation to zero in fiscal 2030.
-- strictly enforce the government-mandated 40-year operating limit on nuclear reactors.
-- allow idled nuclear power plants to resume operation with local consent and emergency evacuation plans.© KYODO