Amid international crises and high prices, Japanese vote for the upper house
by Guido Alberto Casanova

With his popularity declining because of rising prices, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida faces a crucial test next Sunday. Young people have taken to the streets to demand action on climate change, an issue hitherto absent from the current campaign, this despite Japan’s vulnerability as evinced by recent events.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Next Sunday, more than a hundred million Japanese voters will go to the polls to elect half of their House of Councillors, the upper house of Japan’s National Diet (parliament).

Every three years, voters pick half of the Councillors (who are elected for six) using a mixed system (proportional and First-past-the-post).

The current election campaign is now in its final stages, with parties making every effort to sway the undecided.

Foreign policy and security have emerged as two key issues in this campaign, which officially began on 22 June.

This is not the first time that non-domestic issue took centre stage in an election. in this case, the Ukraine invasion has had a great impact on the Japanese, many of whom fear that a similar war could also break out in East Asia.

In light of the situation, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has promised to increase defence spending to 2 per cent.

“There is no economy or anything else unless we can defend our territory or sovereignty,” said Sanae Takaichi, the LDP's policy chief.

Yet there is no shortage of major domestic issues; for example, Japan is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change as recent events show; yet the main parties have left it in backburner.

To bring it back to the fore of the public debate, young Japanese took to the streets on Sunday in different cities urging candidates and voters to tackle the issue.

COVID-19 is the other major issue left out. Neither the ruling LDP nor the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), the main opposition party, have shown great concern since public interest has waned along with the number of cases.

According to a poll by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, only 5 per cent of voters will cast their ballot based on anti-COVID policies; what is more, the various parties are not that far apart from each other on the matter.

Most voters seemed tuned in to economic issues; in fact, for the average Japanese household, inflation is at the top of their list of worries,

This is the more so since a recent study predicts that the price of more than 15,000 food products will increase by an average of 15 per cent by the end of the year.

Indeed, Japanese families can expect to spend 60,000 yen (US$ 440) more than the average of the past few years, mainly due to food prices and energy costs.

Rising prices are a thorn in the side of the government led by Kishida Fumio, as reflected in the drop of popularity of recent weeks.

CDP leader Izumi Kenta has repeatedly attacked the government on this point, calling for a cut in the consumption tax from 10 per cent to 5 per cent.

The other main opposition party, Nippon Ishin, has also taken the same line, but the LDP is steadfast opposed to the idea.

For Toshimitsu Motegi, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, “We would have to cut social security budgets by 30%, including for pensions, if consumption tax were actually lowered as demanded by opposition parties”.

Last but not least, wages too have played a central role in this campaign. All parties agree on the need to take steps to raise workers' incomes, but differ on how best do it.

Kishida wants to raise salaries, proposing to increase the minimum hourly wage to 1,000 yen. The CDP has criticised the proposal, saying that the raise is not enough, suggesting instead an increase to 1,500 yen. For its part, Nippon Ishin is backing a guaranteed minimum income.