DPJ's newfound realism fails to convince
The Democratic Party of Japan on Monday announced its manifesto for the Aug. 30 House of Representatives election. Though it is commendable that the DPJ has adopted a pragmatic stance in its domestic and foreign policies--obviously with an eye to taking over the reins of government--the policy platform it has unveiled is flawed.
As domestic pledges, the manifesto sets out an array of direct-benefit policies closely connected with people's daily lives, including a child allowance, free high school education and the abolition of the provisional higher gasoline tax rate.
But it is impossible to weigh the merits of a policy, no matter how attractive it is, unless its costs and concrete measures to fund it are discussed as part and parcel of the policy in question.
The manifesto presents a time line that has the DPJ implementing the policies in stages over the four years after it comes to power and calculates the total cost necessary to carry out these measures at 16.8 trillion yen annually.
To fund these policies, the DPJ says it would secure 9.1 trillion yen by cutting public works projects, personnel expenses and government subsidies; 5 trillion yen by using surplus funds in special accounts, dubbed "buried treasure"; and 2.7 trillion yen by reviewing special taxation measures such as the spousal tax deduction.
Manifesto sums don't add up
The latest DPJ manifesto is an improvement on the last one, which was prepared for the 2007 House of Councillors election, as the party has fixed the schedule for the implementation of its stated policies and describes in more detail how it will fund them. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether it is really possible to secure the massive sums required to carry out the DPJ's policies simply by streamlining the overall national budget, which currently stands at about 207 trillion yen, as the DPJ asserts.
For example, the manifesto says 1.1 trillion yen will be secured by curtailing about 20 percent of the 5.3 trillion yen in personnel expenses for central government employees. As one method to cut personnel expenses, the DPJ says it will transfer central government employees to local governments as part of decentralization.
But if central government employees are transferred to local governments, it is only logical that the central government transfers the financial resources to pay their salaries. The DPJ's envisaged method can never be considered cost-saving. After all, the party must achieve a net reduction of 20 percent in the number of central government employees and in their payrolls and allowances. Can the DPJ push this through in defiance of assumed resistance from the labor unions that support the party?
Furthermore, there is a great risk in making permanent use of the "buried treasure," currently totaling 4.3 trillion yen, which includes investment returns in the Fiscal Investment and Loan Program Special Account and the Foreign Exchange Fund Special Account. This is because the investment returns are affected by government bond rates and exchange rate fluctuations.
No mention of MSDF mission
As for foreign and national security policies, the manifesto makes no mention of the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, which the DPJ opposed. The party has in fact said it would allow the mission to continue for the time being. Also, the language in the latest manifesto is milder with regard to revising the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement and reviewing the cost of hosting U.S. bases in the country.
The DPJ is right to attach importance to the continuity of Japan's foreign policy and the Japan-U.S. relationship, but its policy shift is too abrupt.
Former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa insisted that the MSDF's refueling mission--an issue that throws the DPJ's policy about-face into relief--is "unconstitutional" and waged an all-out battle against the government and ruling parties over the matter, forcing the suspension of the mission for nearly four months. Given this, the DPJ's new stance on the matter can only be regarded as expedient.
The DPJ should fully explain to the public its position--whether it opposes the refueling mission or conditionally approves it. An equivocal attitude regarding such a fundamental foreign policy issue is unacceptable.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 28, 2009)