All the BBC had to do to get this story right was look at the Yomiuri Shimbun‘s editorial today. Yomiuri complained, once again, about the supposed inadequacies of the national debate leading up to the Upper House elections. About the constitution, Yomiuri asks in its headline, “Why are we not debating the country’s image in the future?”
The fact that this election hasn’t been about the constitution, despite Prime Minister Abe’s solemn declaration in January to make the election about revision, actually gives me hope for the future of Japanese democracy. In opinion poll after opinion poll, in every newspaper, the Japanese people have said “Thanks, but no thanks — we would rather talk about our pensions, education, and health care systems.”
No one is spared Yomiuri‘s wrath for this intervention of the people’s mundane concerns into an election that ought to be about the figure cut by Japan on the international stage. Prime Minister Abe? “Prime Minister Abe, who floated the idea of ‘getting rid of the postwar regime,’ simultaneously declared, ‘constitution revision is the point of contention of the Upper House election.’ The promise at the start clearly expressed the aim of proposing constitution revision to the Diet in 2010. But during the election campaign, it appears there has been a weakening of his attitude.” Ozawa and the DPJ? “We also have doubts about the stance of the DPJ President Ozawa,” due to his history of taking a firm stand in favor of constitution revision in the past but now backing away because of political opportunism (i.e., the desire to see power in the Upper House change hands).
It seems that the only party talking about constitution revision — judging from their campaigning outside the station on my way home tonight — is the Japan Communist Party, and obviously they are resolutely opposed to the idea.
Let me say it again: I think it’s a cause for hope that the parties, especially the LDP, have been forced, in no small part due to the DPJ’s questioning in the Diet, to bend to the will of the people and address the issues that are the source of widespread insecurity among the Japanese people. An election based on constitution revision, an abstract matter far removed from the lives of 127 million Japanese, would be a travesty, a sign of the moral bankruptcy of the political class in the face of mounting challenges. It’s not entirely clear to me why an election grounded in strong doubts about political corruption and government failures in Tokyo is somehow removed from a consideration of Japan’s “image in the future.” Arguably, it has more to do with how Japan will be governed over the coming decades; the idea of Japan’s being a regional or a world power with the aging Japanese public living in fear that they won’t be properly cared for in their old age and with an attenuated LDP trying to hold power at all costs is laughable.
And so with nine days to the election, the DPJ has gotten its wish: this is a lifestyle election. Will the Japanese people take this golden opportunity and actually turn out to punish the government? And if given a stake in the leadership of the Upper House, will the DPJ be able to parlay that into a serious run for control of the Lower House?