Policy debate takes a back seat in DPJ race

August 28, 2011 - 13:39
altDespite a plethora of urgent issues facing Japan, ranging from a nuclear crisis to ballooning debt, candidates have deliberately taken an ambiguous approach in policy debates in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's presidential race. 

The reason is simple: The candidates do not want to espouse a specific policy that may offend a potential supporter. 

"Unfortunately, the talks have mostly been about how to combine different factions. They are not policy-oriented," said former transport minister Sumio Mabuchi, a junior candidate elected only three times to the Diet who hopes to win the support of other younger lawmakers. 

Three candidates -- economy minister Banri Kaieda, Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda and farm minister Michihiko Kano -- have refrained from making policy commitments because they are still Cabinet members on active duty. 

Others blame the short campaign period, which was officially announced on Aug. 27, just two days before the actual voting on Aug. 29. 

However, DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada told a news conference Aug. 18 that the de facto campaign period for policy debates should not be considered short because Prime Minister Naoto Kan's resignation in late August was almost certain even before the Bon holiday season in the middle of the month. 

Another reason for the lack of policy discussions is the inward-looking nature of the race, in which only DPJ lawmakers are entitled to vote, unlike in regular presidential elections in which all full members and supporters with associate-member status can cast their ballots. 

Furthermore, DPJ power broker Ichiro Ozawa, whose whims can quickly turn the tide in the election, waited until Aug. 26 to reveal the name of his preferred candidate, which was Banri Kaieda. 

Ozawa wants the party to stick to its 2009 Lower House election manifesto and has opposed raising taxes to cover post-quake reconstruction costs. The candidates have avoided making clear-cut policy statements for fear of offending Ozawa and his intraparty group of more than 100 lawmakers. 

The record number of candidates in the election means the main battle will be over the votes of lawmakers with no factional affiliations. The candidates, therefore, feel it would be wiser to waffle on policy and hope to attract a wider audience than to take a bold stance and possibly invite repulsions. 

"It is essential to limit policy statements to post-quake reconstruction," said a senior member of one candidate's camp. "We have to reassure people that we will not attempt to do anything outlandish." 

Most of the candidates are calling for Japan to ease its reliance on nuclear power. But in-depth discussions on how to achieve such a society have rarely been heard. That's because a number of DPJ lawmakers champion the continued use of nuclear energy or have close ties with the Federation of Electric Power-Related Industry Workers' Unions of Japan. 

Those who want Japan to continue using nuclear power, meanwhile, have refrained from showing a pro-nuclear stance to avoid offending proponents of phasing out nuclear power plants who have close ties to civil movements. 

Opposition parties are already criticizing the campaign in the ruling party's leadership election, which will determine the next prime minister of Japan. 

"A presidential race without policy debates runs squarely counter to national interests," said Sadakazu Tanigaki, president of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party. 

Yoshimi Watanabe, president of Your Party, was more scathing: "Talks are all about whether to pay tribute to Ozawa or break away from him. Their struggles have never gotten out of that low level." 
(Source: asahi.com)