DPJ views Upper House poll as stepping stone to power

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The Democratic Party of Japan views the July 11 House of Councilors election as a key stepping stone in its quest to wrest power from the ruling coalition, according to DPJ President Katsuya Okada.

The nation’s main opposition force made huge gains in November’s House of Representatives election, boosting its Lower House presence from 137 seats to 177. In the proportional representation blocs, the DPJ won more votes than the Liberal Democratic Party.

“Japan has finally entered an era in which two major parties scramble for political power,” Okada said in an interview with The Japan Times this week.

“We’re aiming at realizing a regime change in the next (Lower House) general election, and therefore the coming Upper House election is an important step.”

Okada added that the party is determined to win more seats than the LDP in the July 11 election.

The DPJ is fielding 48 candidates in the prefectural constituencies, along with 26 proportional representation candidates.

Okada, who became DPJ chief last month, said the Upper House election represents an opportunity for voters to hand down a judgment on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s record since he took office in 2001.

He accused Koizumi of neglecting to explain his policies to the public and making light of Diet proceedings, citing the recent forced passage of contentious pension reforms as an example.

“We’re saying that (pension reform) should be returned to the drawing board,” Okada said.

The government’s legislation will see premiums raised and benefits cut, though the ailing system itself will not be overhauled. The laws were railroaded through the Diet amid fierce resistance from the opposition.

Okada urged Koizumi to have the LDP present proposals for a future overhaul of the pension system. Only then can the DPJ honor a tripartite agreement it reached last month with the LDP and its ruling bloc ally, New Komeito, to launch a pension reform panel, he said.

The DPJ advocates integrating the existing programs for salaried workers and self-employed people, as well as introducing a new 3 percent consumption tax whose revenue will be used exclusively to finance a basic pension designed to support lower-income individuals.

Okada also stressed the need for a taxpayer numbering system that would give the government a clear grasp of people’s incomes. This is deemed a necessary step if the different pension programs are to be integrated.

Regarding Iraq, Okada said the government must introduce a new law before allowing Self-Defense Forces troops deployed to Samawah to take part in a multinational force that will be formed after the June 30 transfer of sovereignty.

“The (current) special law (allowing the SDF dispatch to Iraq) is applied to (the SDF’s activities) in Iraq under the rule of the Coalition Provisional Authority,” Okada said. “The prerequisite will change when sovereignty is handed over to an interim government, and so we are saying a new law is needed in that sense.”

In the meantime, the SDF should be withdrawn from Iraq until certain conditions are met, he said.

“One important condition is for the Iraqi people to request” SDF participation in the multinational force, Okada said, stressing that the request must come not from the interim administration but from a government that is to be established through a general election and is truly representative of the Iraqi people.

Noting that the Constitution rejects the use of force as a means of settling international disputes, Okada said the Iraqi security situation must be stabilized to the point where noncombat zones emerge in the country.