Elections in Japan: the ruling PLD fights for COVID and inequality

Tokyo Japan – Voters in Japan will go to the polls on Sunday with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s party fighting to save its majority in the lower house, amid frustration over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and worsening economic inequality.

Before the dissolution of parliament for Sunday’s vote, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) had 276 seats in the 465-member chamber, while its coalition partner Komeito had 29.

Most polls again project that the PLD will win the majority, albeit with a reduced number of seats, and Kishida, who took office earlier this month, said on Monday that the party faces an “extremely difficult” situation in the next vote.

Part of the reason is that the five main opposition parties have come together to run joint candidates in a large number of single-member districts. The other is that there are a large number of voters who are still undecided, perhaps as much as 40 percent.

The Kyodo news agency, which surveyed 119,000 eligible voters, said Wednesday that the large proportion of undecided voters means that “the result could still swing in either direction.” The Asahi Shimbun newspaper, which surveyed 380,000 voters, also said that “it is still possible that the tide will turn towards voting day.”

In the Japanese capital Tokyo, where the PLD won the most seats in the July municipal elections but did not win an absolute majority, voters were divided over the ruling party’s prospects.

The PLD has ruled Japan for all but four years since 1955. [Behrouz Mehri/ AFP]

Its supporters think that despite the LDP’s initial delays in responding to the pandemic, it should be credited with ensuring that 70 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated against the virus. They also note that infection rates have fallen to record lows this week, with Tokyo registering just 17 new COVID-19 cases on Monday compared to 6,000 infections per day at the peak of the pandemic.

COVID-19 Success

Mari Narahara, a 27-year-old marketing executive, says she will vote for the PLD in hopes of “improvements in political responses to COVID-19 … to get more back into everyday life, including the freedom to travel abroad and eat out” .

At least 18,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Japan since the pandemic began, while 1.7 million people have been infected.

Kishida, who succeeded the unpopular Yoshihide Suga a month ago, has set a target of 233 seats for the coalition, and polls published by the Nikkei and Yomiuri Shimbun newspapers on Friday showed the PLD alone would have a hard time reaching that number.

Critics of the PLD say that if the party had responded faster, Japan could have reduced the number of deaths from COVID-19. And they hope that public dissatisfaction with the response to the pandemic (Kishida’s cabinet approval ratings remain below 50 percent), as well as a united opposition, could end the LDP’s dominance in Japanese politics. The party has ruled Japan for all but four years since 1955.

Sakurako Amatesaru, a kimono model, says she expects a large number of people to come forward and vote against the PLD.

“I think the reform is necessary. After experiencing the crown, I think we need political parties to protect people’s health and economy, ”he said. “I believe that this election will increase electoral participation, which will put an end to the one-party policy of the PLD.”

Sakurako Amaterasu says political parties must protect the economy and public health [Shiori Suzuki/ Al Jazeera]
Reiko Suzuki says she will vote for the Japanese Communist Party [Shiori Suzuki/ Al Jazeera]

Reiko Suzuki, an 86-year-old supporter of the Japanese Communist Party, also said that “a lot of people will vote for different political parties” on Sunday. “I think this will change the one-party policy of the PLD,” he said.

Kishida’s ‘new capitalism’

Urara Ichihara, an English teacher, says she also hopes that “more people will vote for parties other than the PLD than before.” The 61-year-old says that while she has not yet decided which party to support, she certainly will not vote for the PLD.

“Them [the LDP] They haven’t handled the situation well so far and I feel like they’re not thinking about the people, ”he said.

Chief of Ichihara’s concerns is Japan’s growing wealth gap, which many of the ruling party’s critics attribute to “Abenomics,” the economic policy platform characteristic of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a former LDP lawmaker who was the Japan’s longest-serving prime minister when he announced his resignation in 2020.

Although initially well received, “Abenomics” has been criticized for boosting company profits without improving workers’ real wages.

Kishida has accepted those criticisms and has vowed to tackle income inequality, calling for a “new capitalism” that he says would “increase the incomes and wages of as many people as possible.”

But beyond tax incentives for companies that raise workers’ wages, critics say the prime minister has provided few details on how he plans to tackle the problem.

However, neither did the opposition.

At least, according to recent editorials in the Mainichi and Asahi Shimbun newspapers.

“In the October 18 leaders’ debate in the Diet, most parties emphasized economic ‘redistribution’. However, neither had a good explanation of how this would be done specifically and where the funding would come from, ”lamented an editorial in the Mainichi last week.

“The parties must carefully analyze the wealth distortions in Japanese society and compete in their compelling views on how to fix it.”

Mitsuru Umemoto says all Japanese political parties ‘will be the same’ [Shiori Suzuki/ Al Jazeera]
Mustumi Kato Says Japan’s Opposition Parties Will Also Increase Their Number Of Seats This Time [Shiori Suzuki/ Al Jazeera]

64-year-old business owner Mitsuru Umemoto agrees that the policy solutions on offer were neither varied nor inspiring.

“I honestly feel like it doesn’t matter which party I vote for,” said the undecided voter. “They will all be the same.”

Still, Umemoto, who says he is more concerned about the economy and public health, says he will vote. And although he still has to make his choice, the businessman hopes that the PLD will win again.

Mutsumi Kato, a 60-year-old lobbyist, also says she believes the PLD is on its way to another victory.

“But I think the opposition party will also increase the number of seats this time,” he said.

“I believe that the appropriate reforms will be carried out if the number of seats in the PLD and the opposition parties is balanced.”

Shiori Suzuki contributed reporting from Tokyo, Japan.


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