Japan’s choice


Japan holds legislative elections today that will lead to the selection of its next prime minister. The main issue is the state of Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest after America’s and China’s.

Although 12 parties are fielding candidates, the real competition is between Japan’s ruling Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party, which led the country from World War II until it was supplanted in 2009.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has been in office since September, 2011. He is the Democratic Party’s third prime minister since it won the 2009 election. Shinzo Abe, the head of the LDP, is a veteran politician.

Mr. Noda has taken a courageous approach to try to fix the Japanese economy, which has had severe problems for years. Its current growth rate is negative, having contracted in the third quarter of this year. In recent years, Japan has suffered not only the general pain and misery of a trading nation in the global recession, but also the major blows delivered by last year’s earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear disaster.

A budget shortfall has caused Mr. Noda to propose the correct but politically dangerous measure of raising Japan’s sales tax. The revenue from that increase, he says, would cover the rising social service costs of responding to the needs of Japan’s aging population.

Today’s election will suggest whether Japanese voters are prepared to take their fiscal medicine in the form of higher taxes, or whether — like voters in the United States and elsewhere — they demand less painful approaches from their national leaders.