TOKYO -- With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolving the lower house of parliament on Thursday, Japan is fast gearing up for elections set for Oct. 22. The contest is shaping up to be a brawl between Abe and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, with the main debate centering on a consumption tax increase planned for October 2019. As well, Japan's response to provocations from North Korea will likely feature on the campaign trail.
Below are the views of experts on what should be debated in the upcoming election campaign, and their further thoughts.
Hiroshi Yoshikawa, professor, Faculty of Economics of Rissho University
I think the Japanese government should have stuck to its goal of achieving primary balance by fiscal 2020, given the country's severe fiscal situation. It is inevitable that medical and nursing-care costs will swell as baby boomers turn 75 and older. The government should pave the way for achieving fiscal soundness before that. If they put it off, they should provide a new target for primary balance at the same time.
Japan's economic conditions are improving, and some experts say the current economic situation has surpassed the so-called "Izanagi boom" (1965-1970). However, the economy had already started expanding when the second Abe administration kicked off (in 2012). It is not the result of Abenomics, which advocated bold monetary easing and other measures, saying that deflation was the most serious disease. The economy will falter sooner or later. With unemployment falling and the jobs-to-applicants ratio at high levels, I think it is perfect timing for achieving fiscal soundness.
So far, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has yet to present exact timing for achieving primary balance. Although the new Kibo no To, or "Party of Hope," established by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, publicly states its commitment to freezing consumption tax rises, I think it is problematic that neither the ruling nor the opposition forces present a path for fiscal reforms ahead of the election campaign. I think politicians have the responsibility for paving the way for primary balance during the election campaign.
Everybody will be in favor of the idea that education and human resources development are important. But I'm skeptical that putting off fiscal reforms in lieu of free early childhood education is a responsible action for future generations. Fiscal reforms are necessary for young children and unborn generations. I think the government should give priority to what needs to be done for the future.
I'm against providing free education to all households, regardless of income level. Free education should be limited to households that have financial difficulties.
Ken Jimbo, associate professor at Keio University
If the ruling Liberal Democratic Party loses a majority, it will deal a blow to trusted relationships that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has established with U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other global leaders. It is an important opportunity for voters to choose their government and to make judgments over issues like national security and continuity of diplomatic practice.
How to cope with North Korea's nuclear and missile development will likely be a campaign issue. Discussions should take place as to whether Japan, the U.S., South Korea, China and Russia will continue to put pressure on North Korea, or seek dialogue amid diplomatic negotiations with the international community.
The Japanese government says it welcomes the Trump administration's policy of "all options on the table." But will it really welcome the U.S. military options? I think the government should clarify its position toward the possibility of armed attacks on Japan by North Korea, and on what kind of options or alternatives of the U.S. administration has.
I think all parties should have realistic discussions over how to evacuate Japanese nationals living in South Korea in the event of military conflict on the Korean Peninsula, and how Japan, the U.S. and South Korea should cooperate.
I hope the government addresses important international security issues, such as how to proceed with defense equipment export plans and negotiations for the return of the Northern Territories, as well as the whole concept of United nations peacekeeping activities.