Friday, March 1, 2013
EDITORIAL: Time For Abe To Ride Popular Support To Push Agenda
TOKYO (Nikkei)--Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his first policy address to the Diet since forming his government, with the key word stressed being "independence." His tone marked a distinct departure from the standard policy speeches given on such occasions, which are usually pro forma lists of priorities for the ministries.
In January, Abe gave his inaugural address, in which revitalizing the nation's economy was the main goal. The policy speech given Feb. 28 was meant to map the political direction for the coming year, meaning Abe touched on a broader range of issues compared with the January speech. This included energy policy.
On education, he stressed measures to combat bullying, including stronger moral education. He also mentioned the need to review of the current structure of six years of primary school, three of middle school, three of high school and four of university.
Abe distinct assertiveness also came out in his call for "deeper popular discourse about amending the constitution by promoting discussion in the Research Commissions on the Constitution in both houses (of parliament)."
Abe showed enthusiasm for Japan entering negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), saying, "The government is responsible for making decisions." Out of consideration for anti-TPP sentiments within his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, he mentioned no specifics about Japan's participation. But if he wants Japan to enter these talks, Abe needs to quickly gather opinions on the issue, both at home and from abroad, and make an official statement on the matter as soon as possible.
On energy policy, he clearly stated, "Operations will resume at nuclear plants that have been proven safe." This is an appropriate conclusion. To bring these plants back online smoothly, the government must do the job right, and this means winning the support of local government authorities.
Throughout his speech, Abe clearly communicated a desire to build a "strong Japan," but specifics for this were generally missing.
Social security reform is a case in point. He said, "We will secure stable fund sources and build a system in which there is good balance between benefits and burdens." He did not elaborate further. His apparent willingness to just wait for a report from the National Council on Social Security Reform is disappointing.
The task now for Abe is to talk about specifics with the Diet that can flesh out his policy speech.
This is Abe's second time as prime minister. And so far, his government is off to a smooth start, with 70% of respondents in a recent Nikkei opinion poll expressing support.
Abe should take his strong poll numbers as an opportunity for bold action on agricultural reform and deregulation, which, if Japan is to participate in the TPP negotiations, he can no longer postpone.
(The Nikkei, March 1 morning edition)