DPJ presidential candidates must debate revival of Japan
It is essential that the candidates in the upcoming Democratic Party of Japan presidential election review the DPJ's past three years in power and hold a responsible policy debate to rehabilitate the party and restore public trust.
Official campaigning for the DPJ presidential election began Monday. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda; former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu; former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi; and former farm minister Michihiko Kano have thrown their hats into the ring to begin the war of words.
Noda's lead over the other candidates appears unshakable, making the race a de facto confidence vote. Much focus is being placed on how many anti-Noda votes the other candidates can garner.
Ending deflation urgent
It is important for Noda to win as much support as possible in the party. He needs to restore his political clout, which was weakened after the DPJ split when former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa and his followers left the party, and to build a foundation to tackle new policy challenges.
At a joint press conference of the candidates Monday, Noda stressed his commitment to the agreement between the DPJ, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito over integrated social security and tax system reform. He said his stance will not change even though LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki has announced he will not run for reelection.
Enacting the reform legislation, the main pillar of which is an increase in the consumption tax rate, has been the Noda administration's historic achievement. It marked a first step away from the "politics incapable of making decisions" under the divided Diet. We commend Noda's stance of maintaining cooperative relations between the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito.
Akamatsu and Kano said they would basically stand by the three-party deal, but Haraguchi said the agreement had been negated by the passing of a censure motion against Noda in the House of Councillors.
Haraguchi hopes to capitalize on his ties to Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), but we strongly doubt he could turn policy into reality without the cooperation of the LDP and Komeito.
As a new policy goal, Noda announced he would draw up and implement an emergency plan to break the grip of deflation within one year and restore the country's competitiveness within two years.
It is understandable that he set a specific deadline for beating deflation to create an environment amenable for raising the consumption tax rate. We hope he will put his policy into shape quickly.
Explain advantages of TPP
The four candidates differ clearly over whether Japan should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade framework. Noda said he will promote participation in the framework, Akamatsu and Kano have been cautious on the issue, and Haraguchi said Japan should not join.
Japan did not say it would participate in the TPP negotiations at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Russia. However, we believe the nation must join the free-trade framework if it hopes to tap the economic vigor of Asia to further develop the Japanese economy. Noda needs to clearly explain the merits of joining the talks early.
In energy policy, all four candidates agree the nation should eventually end its reliance on nuclear power.
We fear the proposed zero option for nuclear power would have an adverse effect on the economy by increasing production costs and undermining nuclear technology, among other concerns. We suggest the four candidates reconsider the matter and come to a more realistic solution without pandering to antinuclear opinions.
In the joint news conference, Kano and two other candidates blamed Noda for causing the DPJ to split, and said the party needs a "political culture of responsibility." Noda rejected their claims, saying, "I can't resuscitate the party by leaving office halfway through."
What would be more problematic than the breakup of the party is if the DPJ, as a ruling party, continued its internal battles while papering over important policy differences. The party needs a political culture in which members comply with what has been decided through policy debates.
The DPJ should use the forthcoming presidential election as an opportunity for a fresh start by learning from its past blunders in running the government.
The failed attempt last week to field Environment Minister Goshi Hosono in the party presidential election laid bare once again the DPJ's tendency to seek easy-sounding popularity-seeking solutions. In the political drama, Hosono's supporters believed that if a young candidate with good name recognition led the party in the next House of Representatives election, they would not have to be so concerned that the party would have to fight an uphill battle.
In a draft of its manifesto for the next general election, the DPJ advocates the handout policy of increasing child allowances by 50 percent, which is typical of the party's populist inclinations.
Realistic pledges crucial
The DPJ must reexamine the defects of its unrealistic manifesto, which claims it could generate more than 16 trillion yen per year by altering the budget allocation system. The debates of the presidential candidates must lead the party to adopt a convincing campaign platform.
Japan's diplomatic and security policies have followed a sinuous course in recent years, neglecting the Japan-U.S. alliance. Government administrative functions have not worked smoothly due to the DPJ's policy of distancing itself from the bureaucracy in deciding and carrying out policies. The government should also be blamed for haphazardly dealing with the Gtreat East Japan Earthquake and the sebsequent nuclear crisis. Noda has struggled to resolve these negative legacies from the previous two DPJ administrations, led by Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan, but he has yet to finish the job.
The DPJ has attempted to blame the opposition for legislative failures in the divided Diet, in which the House of Councillors is controlled by the opposition camp. But it is clear the DPJ's irresponsible management of Diet business has been a root cause of the indecisive political atmosphere.
The question is whether the DPJ as a whole can recognize its responsibilities as the ruling party during the leadership campaign and make a fresh start.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 11, 2012)