DPJ’s platform vows troop pullout

Trimming waste, pension reform pledged

by Reiji Yoshida

The Democratic Party of Japan on Tuesday unveiled its platform for the Sept. 11 election, pledging to pull the Ground Self-Defense Force out of Iraq by December if it comes to power.

The GSDF’s humanitarian mission in the southern city of Samawah runs until December, but the DPJ platform, which the largest opposition force calls its manifesto, said the deployment would not be extended, as has been the case.

The party has opposed the all-out support the government of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has given for the U.S.-led war in Iraq as well as the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces units there.

On the domestic front, the DPJ promised to eliminate 17 trillion yen in unnecessary expenses in the government’s general account budget for the three years to fiscal 2008.

At the same time, however, a DPJ-led government would allocate an additional 7 trillion yen during the same period for initiatives that include pension reforms and support of households with children, the party said. This would bring the total budget downsizing at the end of the three-year period to 10 trillion yen.

Proposed cuts from current budgetary items include a 2.8 trillion yen consolidation of subsidies for local governments, 1.3 trillion yen worth of cuts in public works projects ordered by the central government and 1 trillion yen saved through a 20 percent reduction in personnel expenses for national-level public servants.

The aim of the DPJ is to shift voter attention from the highly publicized internal strife within the Liberal Democratic Party, which Koizumi heads, over his pet project to privatize the postal system and get them to focus more on issues closely linked to their purse strings.

The DPJ’s primary target is “the wasteful use of taxpayer money” at the hands of the LDP-led government. Much of the 17 trillion yen in cuts it advocates would be made by whittling down public works spending, including money funneled from the general account budget to a number of project-specific special account budgets, DPJ officials said.

“Massive investments in concrete (structures) should be shifted to those for people. That’s what’s most important,” DPJ policy chief Yoshito Sengoku told a news conference at party headquarters in Tokyo.

But the DPJ has yet to reveal complete details of its budget-reduction plan, claiming it requires further examination of budget data, and blaming the central government for failing to provide necessary information on specific figures.

As for reform of the rickety pension system, an issue often ranked as the top voter concern in media surveys, the DPJ renewed its pledge to consolidate the three public pension systems for salaried workers, public servants and the self-employed into one and thereby offer balanced benefits and burdens.

On other issues, the DPJ promised to improve diplomatic ties with China, South Korea and other of parts of Asia.

DPJ President Katsuya Okaka has pledged not to visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals along with the nation’s war dead — a position that sharply contrasts with that of Koizumi, who has made annual visits since becoming prime minister in April 2001, except for this year.

DPJ officials have grown concerned as public support ratings for Koizumi’s Cabinet have risen and the DPJ’s media exposure has been reduced considerably as the internal bickering within the LDP over the failed postal privatization bills bubbled over after the dissolution of the House of Representatives on Aug. 8.

The DPJ opposes privatizing the postal services because many of the party’s lawmakers depend heavily on postal labor unions to assist their election campaigns.

Drawing criticism from Koizumi and his supporters for being “antireformist,” the DPJ was forced to attach a separate sheet to its platform explaining its plan to scale down the current postal saving and insurance programs, instead of privatizing them.

The DPJ would eventually impose a 5 million yen cap on postal savings accounts held by individuals. As a result, the current 220 trillion yen in the system would be cut in half over eight years, according to party officials.

The DPJ argues that direct downsizing of postal savings, instead of the complicated privatization plan, would funnel people’s assets more effectively to the private sector, the original purpose of Koizumi’s privatization plan.

Under Koizumi’s plan, government control over the privatized entities would still remain through shareholding, and how the new entities would invest their assets in the private sector, instead of buying government bonds, is not clearly shown, critics say.

New Komeito platform

New Komeito, the ruling coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, unveiled on Tuesday its platform for the Sept. 11 election, promising to expand child-care allowance to deal with the falling birthrate.

The platform, highlighting “reforms from the viewpoint of ordinary people,” calls for extending the eligible age limit to receive child-care allowance from that of a third grader to that of a sixth grader, with an eye on further extending the limit to that of a ninth grader in the future.

The party also seeks to double the amount of the allowance from the current 5,000 yen for the first and second child and the 10,000 yen for the third child onward, according to the platform.

New Komeito, mainly backed by Soka Gakkai, the country’s biggest lay Buddhist organization, vows to continue reconstruction assistance in Iraq and to promote efforts to achieve postal privatization.

Among other items on its agenda, the party promises to make 7 million houses, 50,000 hospitals as well as schools earthquake resistant and to eliminate all railway crossings that pose safety risks.

Next prime minister?

A group of academic and business leaders urged the Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday to clarify who will be responsible for its election pledges after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi leaves office.

Representatives of the National Council for Building a New Japan told a news conference that Koizumi’s plan to leave office in about a year makes it uncertain who will be in charge of the platform throughout the four-year term that the Sept. 11 election will mandate.

Koizumi’s final term as LDP chief expires in September 2006.

The group, which promotes political reform, criticized Koizumi for calling the general election over the single issue of postal privatization.