[From February Issue 2013]
ABE Shinzo’s cabinet was formed after last year’s December election. Japan faces a number of difficulties that need to be resolved and Prime Minister Abe’s abilities will be evaluated depending on how well he deals with them. One problem is that of nuclear power. Should Japan continue to use it? Should Japan abolish it? Public opinion is deeply divided. One view is that nuclear power stations that have been deemed safe should be switched back on for the sake of economic growth and cost effectiveness. The other side believes that human life should be given priority and that the accident at Fukushima proved without a shadow of a doubt that there are no absolute guarantees for the safety of nuclear power stations.
Pensions have also become a big problem. National pension payments by the working generation go towards paying the pensions of the elderly, but because of the declining birthrate and aging population, the existing pension system is heading for collapse. In short, the number of people receiving a pension is increasing, while the number of those making payments is decreasing. These days more and more young people are not paying, because there is a possibility that they will not be able to receive a pension in the future.
Japan owes approximately 1,000 trillion yen in debts. The largest amount in the world by far. Because of this the former regime decided to raise consumer tax in 2014 in order to pay for social welfare. However, the stagnation of Japan’s economy is continuing. Many people oppose this and say that if consumption tax goes up, the economy will slump even further which would have a knock on effect, causing corporate tax to decrease.
As the trend towards globalization continues, Japanese manufacturers have moved overseas in search of cheap labor and new markets. Because of this, within Japan fewer permanent staff are being employed, while the number of temporary and part time workers is increasing. Wages for workers have not increased so their purchasing power has decreased meaning that businesses cannot make enough profit. The government is planning to increase tax revenues in line with to economic growth, but there is strong opposition to this policy.
Another problem is diplomatic. People are closely watching how the government deals with territorial disputes between China, Korea and Russia. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party wants to strengthen military power, which would mean revising the constitution to make this possible. Other people are objecting to this move, stating that a hard-line stance would worsen relations with these nations. Meanwhile the debate continues over whether free trade agreements, like the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), are in the national interest.
Now people are keeping a close eye on whether politicians keep their election pledges. Out of the many problems that need dealing with, citizens particularly want to see a decrease in the number of politicians, a wage cut for politicians, as well as a decrease in the number of public servants and a cut in their wasteful spending.
People’s trust in the media, which often treats politics as some form of entertainment, is declining. There has been criticism of the opinion polls that they carry out immediately after a cabinet member has made a blunder; these give the impression that the approval rating for the cabinet has declined. Some say that this is one of the reasons that Japanese prime ministers are replaced after serving about one year in office.
Some people say that the problem lies with voters who are either overly influenced by the media, or don’t bother voting at all because they believe that nothing will change no matter who the prime minister is. There is a saying that “the level of a nation’s politics is equivalent to the level of the people themselves.” Critics point out that this saying is applicable to Japan.