Ogi’s New Conservatives aim to lay Japan’s ‘moral ground’

by Toshi Maeda

The recently launched New Conservative Party, the smallest force in the tripartite ruling coalition, hopes to maintain its current strength in the June 25 election in order to lay the “moral ground” for the country in the next century.

NCP President Chikage Ogi is emphasizing education and the Constitution as fundamental issues to appeal to the electorate.

“When I go aboard, people often ask me why, in a major economic power like Japan, are juvenile crimes and problems such as bullying at schools and teenage prostitution so prevalent,” Ogi said in an interview.

She claimed that teachers and parents are responsible for the upsurge in these problems because they have taught children to assert their rights — but neglected to nurture family and social bonds.

With the complete five-day school week to become a reality in the near future, Ogi proposes that students engage in volunteer activities at least once a week.

“Unless we set our minds to educational reform at the outset of the 21st century, Japan will be known as a nation that is prosperous materially but mentally devastated,” Ogi said.

The 67-year-old Takarazuka actress-turned-Upper House member added that another of her major campaign pledges is to rewrite the postwar Constitution into a document that can be “easily understood” by the public.

“Constitutional scholars are still divided over the question of whether the Self Defense Forces are constitutional,” she said. “Given such uncertainty, it is easy to understand that many people find the Constitution unfathomable.”

Ogi maintains that with more support from the public, her party will work toward “correcting the gaps” between the reality of modern-day Japan and what is written in the Constitution, such as the existence of de facto military and the common practice of providing private schools with government subsidies, which is banned by the supreme code.

While Ogi is full of cheerful energy in outlining such goals, her face takes on a serious look when it comes to the expected election results.

“Our party (is like a baby who) was just born and is barely able to toddle along,” she said. “We really cannot expect too much (from the election).”

The NCP was launched on April 3 by members who seceded from the Liberal Party after its charismatic leader, Ichiro Ozawa, announced that the party would leave the ruling camp.

Consisting of 21 Lower House and six Upper House defectors, the NCP is a minor presence — though larger than the remainder of the Liberal Party — within the ruling coalition, which is led by the Liberal Democratic Party and its major ally, New Komeito.

Some observers argue that the NCP could merge with the LDP soon after the election. In a move seen as a prelude to such a union, three NCP Lower House members were transferred to the LDP last month so their names will be on the LDP’s proportional representation rosters.

Ogi said the NCP aims to maintain at least its current strength after the election and will not work to achieve a merger — at least not just yet.

“At present, we (the LDP and NCP) are not in agreement on our policies,” she said.

At the same time, she believes that if the NCP suffered a serious setback in the election and essentially loses its structure as a political party, she would have to weigh the merger option more heavily.

The NCP’s campaign pledges, however, differ only slightly from those of the Liberal Party.

Both parties stress the issues of education and the Constitution, are promising to reform social security programs by using revenue from the consumption tax and insist that public morality be enhanced.

“I really don’t understand why Mr. Ozawa opted to go to the opposition, where his policies are less likely to be realized,” Ogi said. “He has great policies and faith. It seems to me that he is wasting his talents.”