On March 11, Japan will commemorate the first anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster. As the Japanese remember more than 19,000 lives lost, Japanese politics continues its pattern of instability, aggravated following the 3/11 tragedy.
The government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has not quite yet reached the depths of unpopularity of his immediate predecessor, Naoto Kan, who resigned last September. Recent opinion polls show approval for Noda’s cabinet trending towards 30%, down from about 60%, when he was first appointed Prime Minister by a vote of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Diet members. Polls also suggest a continuing long-term public disillusionment with politics: the DPJ currently has only 16% support, with the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) faring hardly better on 17%. At least 54% of respondents claim not to favour any political party. Amid this poor level of public opinion, Noda faces a political crisis, over his proposal to increase the rate of consumption tax, which could force a snap election.
Hiking the consumption tax is advocated by Noda as the best immediate means of addressing Japan’s looming fiscal crisis. Japan’s increasingly aging demographics threaten long-term increases in medical and pension costs, coinciding with shrinking income tax revenues. The cost of the 3/11 disaster (estimated by the World Bank at $US235 billion) has also strained budgets. Local and prefectural governments in the disaster zone still require extensive support for ongoing removal of waste and debris, and repairs to housing, infrastructure, and industry. Temporary housing and social services are still needed for evacuees that remain displaced.