Kudo's Blog; Are manifestos a pledge to the citizens and addressing public issues?

July 31, 2013

by Yasushi Kudo

The Genron NPO has released a manifesto evaluation and a "basic evaluation" of election manifestos by nine major political parties. While conducting of a "basic evaluation" should essentially be unnecessary, we are now facing a situation where the public is unable to make a judgment over the content of party manifestos that have increasingly become mere dead letters. In order to examine the discourses in manifestos, we have conducted a "basic evaluation", assessing six aspects, grading each on a five-point scale. Our results show that all political parties scored within one or two points. With regards to promises made to the public, our results show that most manifestos do not fulfill the criteria of a policy pledge.

"Basic evaluation" - do pledges by political parties address the constituents and issues at hand in present Japan?

Upon examining how many pledges were included in party manifestos, we found out that out of a total of 1440 items put forward by nine major political parties as election pledges, only 123 items - constituting mere 3.5% - contained wording that could be considered as a pledge, containing concrete goals, set timeframes and specifications of where financial resources would be mobilized from in order to accomplish the goals. In other words, while 1440 pledges were put forward by parties, they are reduced to abstract wording and mere expressions of wishes. Under these circumstances, it becomes impossible for the public to pass a judgment on what politics will really deliver.

While Abe administration continues to build upon the pledges that it has put forward to the public in December last year, the way in which the party explained how last year's election pledges relate to the present ones is one of the assessment items that we have examined. There are 1234 comparable manifesto items by seven political parties from the Lower House election period. Out of these 1234 items, 928 were used without changes, 343 appeared newly and 446 items disappeared from manifestos altogether. Additions and corrections were made to 51 items. However, in only 29 cases an explanation has been provided for how last year's and this year's pledges relate. This inevitably leads to a situation where parties enter the elections with changed pledges without providing satisfactory justifications.

Besides analyzing the formal aspect of pledges, we have conducted a basic evaluation of six aspects including an evaluation of whether the parties were able to narrow down issues that need to be addressed, whether they competently indicated what methodology they intend to use in order to achieve the solutions to problems they propose, and whether they have provided satisfactory justifications for solutions that may be unpopular with the public. Our results show that out of nine parties, the highest score was two points, with majority of parties scoring one point or none.

Evaluation of manifestos - Lack of solution plans

Next, in the process of manifesto evaluation, we have checked the formal criteria of policy pledges, for example, existence of concrete objectives, a timeframes, justification responsibility, and adequacy of plans proposed to solve issues.

The twelve areas examined include the economic policies under the Abenomics framework, fiscal policy, social welfare, diplomacy and security policy, education, regional policy, and civil society. On a scale of 100 points, LDP scored 29 points, three parties scored between 20 and 30 points, three parties scored 10 to 20 points, and three parties scored less than ten points. These results came out as the lowest since we have started assessment of election manifestos in 2004.

How can we account for these discouraging results? Parties display decreasing will to specify their plans for solving problems. As a result, to repeat our argument, election promises are losing their substance in terms of issue-formulation and policy proposals. We are thus backtracking into times when election pledges were a collection of mere abstract ideas.

When comparing the ruling and opposition parties, it can be said that election pledges of the ruling party display orientation towards the public. However, when it comes to whether the party has provided satisfying justifications and explanations related to pressing issues, that is not necessarily the case. In the case of a judgment over the consumption tax, fiscal rehabilitation and welfare issues, as well as other issues that are pending a judgment, answers have been postponed to after the elections.

This election can be seen as a confidence vote over Abe administration. However, based on the results, it may be that we will not see another election take place for the next three years. In the meantime, the electorate, unable to make a judgment over issues at hand, is in a situation where it has to leave everything up to the incumbent party. In my opinion, this is an undesirable situation.

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