Debate leaves more questions than answers
Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa's speech during the Diet questioning session Wednesday was rather unusual. Was this an attempt to counter the equally unconventional policy speech given by Prime Minister Taro Aso to the Diet on Monday?
Political maneuvering between the Liberal Democratic Party and the DPJ ahead of the next House of Representatives election is well and truly under way.
Ozawa's speech, which he regarded as a policy speech he would make if he were prime minister, stressed mostly how a DPJ-led government would change Japan. Ozawa clearly spelled out policy pledges for the next lower house election, such as the provision of child-rearing allowances and a subsidy to guarantee a certain level of income for each farmer, and indicated the time frame for carrying out these policies.
The DPJ took a step forward from the pledges contained in its manifesto for last year's House of Councillors election by presenting a "flow chart" for carrying out policies. The two sets of policy pledges, however, are similar in that both spelled out policies without clearly stating where financial resources to fund them would come from.
Ozawa called for reconfiguring the net expenditures of the general and special accounts--212 trillion yen per year--and using about 10 percent of the budgets, or 20.5 trillion yen, for financing the DPJ's policies.
Slashing expenditures, however, is difficult when more than 80 percent of them are earmarked for debt-servicing costs and social security benefits payments. The so-called "buried gold," or surplus funds in special accounts, which the DPJ has proposed tapping for implementing some of its policies, will not be an inexhaustible financial resource.
Dodging tough questions
When the DPJ officially announces its manifesto for assuming power, the party must give clear answers to such questions.
This was not the first "policy speech" Ozawa has made during a Diet questioning session by party representatives. Ozawa adopted a similar tack in January 1996 when he was allowed to question the policy speech made by then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto immediately after becoming chief of the now-defunct New Frontier Party.
Ozawa, meanwhile, did not directly answer five questions Aso had directed at the DPJ during the prime minister's policy speech.
For example, Ozawa did not answer whether his party will give priority to the Japan-U.S. security alliance or the United Nations in diplomatic and security matters. He merely said, "The Japan-U.S. security alliance and the policy of placing the United Nations at the core of this nation's diplomatic policies do not contradict each other at all."
Ozawa probably judged that it would not work to his advantage to discuss in detail the topics proposed by Aso. However, these debates will fail to get to the crux of each issue if both leaders simply speak past each other by making assertions.
Still time for debates
Debates only grab the attention of listeners when each side makes its position clear, while making rebuttals to the other's arguments.
Pointing to the fact that the administrations of Aso's two predecessors--Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda--were short-lived, Ozawa called for an early dissolution of the lower house. "It only stands to reason in a parliamentary democracy to hand over the reins of government to the opposition and hold a general election," Ozawa said.
Aso scoffed at Ozawa's assertion by saying, "The LDP is the party that has the unyielding capability to hold the reins of government and assume responsibility for the future of Japan." Aso upped the ante by touching on Ozawa's admission when a proposal to form a grand coalition between the LDP and DPJ collapsed last year that doubts were cast on the DPJ's ability to assume power.
The face-off between the LDP and DPJ presidents ended without getting down to the essence of the issues. But the two leaders still have more opportunities for open debates. A question-and-answer session is scheduled for next week's meeting of the lower house Budget Committee to deliberate the supplementary budget.
We believe this meeting would be a good opportunity for Ozawa to put forward more questions. We hope he will hold more in-depth debates with Aso.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 2, 2008)