The Genron NPO-appointed policy experts have hit out at Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's way of addressing key economic policy issues during the roughly first 100 days since the inauguration of his Cabinet on Sept. 2.
Their discussions focused on, among other things, Noda's attempt to increase the broad-based consumption tax from 5 percent as a main pillar of measures to finance swelling social security costs. It is basically understandable for an administration to try to increase the consumption tax in the current political circumstances, but the prime minister lacks a vision about how to improve Japan's society by doing so, said Hiroya Masuda, an adviser to the Nomura Research Institute. Masuda was formerly governor of Iwate Prefecture and minister of public management, home affairs, posts and telecommunications.
Kenji Yumoto, a counselor of the Japan Research Institute, criticized what he sees as a gap between Noda's message about the need to restructure Japan's tax and social security systems, and the actual contents of his plan to this end.
A blueprint for revamping Japan's tax and social security systems together, worked out by former Prime Minister Naoto Kan's government in June, stipulated that increased tax revenue would be used for social security measures, but in fact, only 1 percent of the proposed 5 percent increase would go to social security, Yumoto noted. The gap has yet to be explained to voters, he said. As Noda helped to draw up the reform blueprint as finance minister, it has become the basis for his Cabinet's effort to solve the potentially explosive policy issue.
Takero Doi, a professor at Keio University's Department of Economics, stressed that Japan will have to reform its social security system regardless of whether the consumption tax is increased but that the Cabinet has not explained specifically how it wants to reform the system.
The three experts were equally concerned that the administration's political will has not been properly conveyed to voters. They were speaking as guests at The Genron NPO-organized "Genron Studio" debate held Dec. 15.
Genron NPO Representative Yasushi Kudo said that the day's debate represented the start of a review by the non-profit think tank of the Noda Cabinet's policy achievements in its first 100 days.
Masuda, Yumoto and Doi were earlier named members of a Genron NPO team to evaluate the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's specific campaign pledges for the 2009 Lower House election.
Masuda gave a score of 50 points out of 100 for the Cabinet's achievements in the 100-day period. "This is not a passing mark," he said. Meanwhile, Yumoto and Doi provided a relatively high score of 60 points to the Cabinet.
Masuda said his harsh assessment reflects a "structural problem" that the DPJ faces as a political party; the party tends to be more interested in maintaining harmony among its members than in addressing the people's needs.
Yumoto noted with some satisfaction that the Cabinet has been grappling with measures to rehabilitate areas hit by the devastating earthquake and the killer tsunami waves that damaged the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan on March 11, and that it is working on priority economic policy issues such as those to help domestic industries over the adverse effects of the unprecedented appreciation of the yen on exchange markets.
Doi said that he hopes that the government will make serious efforts toward increasing the consumption tax and paving the way for Japan to join the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade scheme.
Kudo outlined the results of a recent Genron NPO questionnaire designed to seek opinion leaders' views about the Noda Cabinet's efforts to solve major policy issues in its first 100 days and the DPJ's manifesto-style politics since the 2009 general election that put an end to the decades-long dominance of Japan's politics by the Liberal Democratic Party.
Now that the DPJ has had to amend or scrap most of its major election commitments in the 2009 manifesto, more than 70 percent of the interviewed understood that the party cannot be justified as representing voters any longer, following two changes of the head of government virtually only through intraparty elections since it came to power. In the meantime, about 80 percent of the polled replied that a political party needs to have a manifesto for voters.
The foremost reason for the DPJ's failure to carry out its manifesto-style politics has been its lack of a "policy axis" around which its members must bind together, Yumoto said. Doi, while referring to examples in Britain, stressed that any manifesto should be a message to clarify the direction in which this country must be moved, rather than something aimed at pleasing everybody.
Masuda criticized the party's 2009 manifesto for not being "a manifesto in the true sense of the term." The political management of the DPJ governments in the past two years has resulted in a loss of confidence about manifesto campaign pledges among the people, he noted.
"A democratic process is time-consuming and costly, but while keeping this in mind, they (the DPJ) should continue explanations to voters" mainly about why it proposes a tax increase to rehabilitate public finances despite its campaign pledge to improve the fiscal situation by cutting unnecessary government expenditure, Masuda said.
Many opinion leaders foresee rough road ahead for Noda Cabinet
A recent questionnaire by The Genron NPO showed many opinion leaders less optimistic about the fate of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Cabinet in the months ahead.
Some 100 Japanese opinion leaders polled in the questionnaire gave relatively high marks to the jobs his administration did in its first 100 days, compared to those of past Cabinets in the corresponding periods, but about 60 percent of them replied that hopes cannot be pinned on the Noda Cabinet in the next 100 days, according to Genron NPO Representative Yasushi Kudo.
Asked about the course of hard discussions among government and ruling party leaders about Noda's attempt to increase the consumption tax to help finance social security costs in the years ahead, 43 percent of the polled replied that the prime minister would be able to carry it through. Meanwhile, 33 percent forecast that he would fail.
In reply to the question of how long the Noda Cabinet would last, 25 percent of the polled predicted that the prime minister, who doubles as leader of the ruling DPJ, would stay on in power until the current four-year term of office for Lower House members expires in 2013. Meanwhile, 21 percent replied that Noda would continue as prime minister until September 2012, when an election will be held to select a new DPJ leader.
Conversely, 15 percent replied that his Cabinet's fate would be decided during the next ordinary session of the Diet, to be convened for 150 days starting January.