Strategically tackle policies to wrap up prime minister's Cabinet
The following editorial appeared in Thurday's Japan News-Yomiuri:
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The lineup of the reshuffled Cabinet is aimed at wrapping up the long-running administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He is called on to face challenges related to a future course for Japan, including social security reforms and constitutional revision, and pave the way for solutions to these issues.
The reshuffled fourth Abe Cabinet has been inaugurated. The reshuffle of the Cabinet and the lineup of the Liberal Democratic Party's executives was the first since last October. Abe told a news conference: "We'll tackle drastic reform without being restricted by conventional concepts. It's the Cabinet of stability and challenge."
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who have been pivotal figures in the Abe Cabinet, were retained in their respective posts while LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai remained in his. Making a drastic reshuffle of his Cabinet, Abe brought in 13 first-timers.
Abe likely aimed to emphasize renewal while maintaining a sense of stability. He also gave consideration to the intentions of the LDP's factions. The latest Cabinet reshuffle indicates his intention to resolidify party unity with a view to maintaining his unifying force with two years left before the expiration of his term as LDP president.
The prime minister gave many Cabinet posts to lawmakers who are close to him. He must display leadership to make it possible for Cabinet members to carry out policies precisely.
Candidates to succeed Abe have continued to assume key posts in the Cabinet and the LDP. Fumio Kishida, leader of the party's Kishida faction, has been retained as LDP Policy Research Council chairman. Toshimitsu Motegi, the previous economic revitalization minister and a heavyweight of the Takeshita faction, was appointed as foreign minister.
Suga has been expanding his support base focusing on LDP lawmakers with no faction affiliation. Shinjiro Koizumi, who was appointed as environment minister having been elected four times to the lower house, enjoys high popularity among the public.
In November, Abe is set to become the longest-serving prime minister, surpassing the previous record set by Taro Katsura. Abe's steady efforts to deal with domestic and foreign issues have led to him gaining consecutive national election wins.
As his presence stands out, prospective candidates to succeed Abe cast thin shadows. The candidates will face crucial tests over whether they will be able to stand out amid the new Cabinet and LDP leadership lineup.
During the period from 1955 to 1993 in which the LDP monopolized power, leaders of LDP factions competed based on their numerical strength to eventually win the post of prime minister. The fierce struggle for power resulted in money politics but led to energizing the party as well.
Individual candidates for prime minister are called on to work out policy proposals and compete over their abilities to execute them.
The Abe administration is entering its final stage. What will it try to accomplish before the end of its term? And what policy line will it lay and entrust to its successor? It must scrutinize policy priorities from a medium- and long-range perspective and carry them out strategically.
The new Cabinet's main focus should be economic policy.
Corporate earnings and employment indicators have improved in recent times, but there are few tangible effects of the economic recovery. A virtuous economic cycle, in which higher wages lead to increased consumption, must be made a reality.
Intensifying trade friction between China and the United States is casting a shadow over the outlook for Japan's economy. It is vital that the government pays close attention to economic trends and takes measures as the situation demands.
The consumption tax rate will be increased to 10 percent on Oct. 1. This revenue will be a stable source of funds for maintaining the social security system, so the tax hike must be implemented smoothly.
Japan is becoming a super-aging society ahead of other nations. An environment must be created in which many people work for as long as they can, thereby becoming sources of support for the social security system. More assistance must be given to young people raising children to put the brakes on the nation's declining birthrate. It is essential to craft what the prime minister has trumpeted as a social security system oriented to all generations.
To ensure this system can be maintained, asking elderly people who have the wherewithal to shoulder a greater burden will be unavoidable.
Abe announced he will establish a new council tasked with considering revisions to the social security system. It will be crucial to carefully discuss the issue and make efforts to broaden understanding of reforms that will bring pain for some.
The opposition parties also would have no objection to the necessity of reforming the social security system. They should resist turning this issue into a political football and work together with the ruling parties to deepen discussions on these reforms.
How will Abe persuade U.S. President Donald Trump, who is championing an "America first" policy, to return to a system of international cooperation? The true value of Abe's diplomatic approach is being put to the test.
The nation must remain vigilant given the security environment in East Asia. North Korea is pressing ahead with development of ballistic missiles. China and Russia also are bent on building up their military.
Japan's relations with South Korea are fraying due to reasons including the issue of South Korean former wartime requisitioned workers. Care should be taken to ensure antagonism between Japan and South Korea does not hinder military cooperation among Tokyo, Washington and Seoul.
The commissions on the Constitution in each chamber of the Diet remain stuck in a situation in which confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties is preventing any constructive discussions from being held. The commissions' role to constantly discuss the nation's supreme law must not be neglected.
The prime minister aims to amend the Constitution during his term in office. Any initiative to change the top law must pass through many stages, including discussions between the ruling parties and forging a consensus with opposition parties. It is vital that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party lays the groundwork for an environment in which such discussions can go ahead.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and other parties should rethink their approach of rebuffing calls to discuss the Constitution while the Abe administration is in power.