Fukuda, Aso serve up similar message

by Hiroko Nakata

Yasuo Fukuda, the front-runner in the Liberal Democratic Party presidential race, and contender Taro Aso both promised Sunday to solve the country’s pension woes and shrink the widening economic disparity between urban and rural areas.

The two candidates to succeed Shinzo Abe as party head and prime minister took similar stands on several issues during televised policy speeches from LDP headquarters in Tokyo.

They addressed their pledges to LDP lawmakers and party members, who will be the voters in the Sept. 23 election made necessary by Abe’s shock announcement Wednesday that he will step down.

“The pension problem really hurt the people’s trust in the government,” Fukuda said. “We need to make our best efforts to quickly regain that trust.”

The Social Insurance Agency’s mishandling of millions of pension records was one reason the ruling party was crushed in the July House of Councilors election.

Aso also promised to fix the public pension system, promising that people will be able to live without worrying about the future.

Fukuda promised to breach the widening economic disparity between big cities and rural towns. Many see the problem as being created by economic rationalism and the radical reforms instituted by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Fukuda used the phrase “independence and symbiosis” to describe his policy goals in this area.

Aso said it is important to instill hope among people in rural districts and workers at small companies. To do that, he said, it is necessary to review the central government’s subsidies to local governments.

He proposed that the government promote further relocation of high-skill jobs and competitive companies to the countryside to help local economies.

On other issues, Fukuda brought up the environment. Aso said it is necessary for Japan to continue contributing to antiterrorism operations by carrying on with the naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and stressed the importance of the abduction issue.

Apart from policy matters, Aso criticized Fukuda for quickly gathering support from many LDP faction leaders, calling it a “backdoor deal.” He urged the audience to keep the public’s will in mind when they vote.

“What the public needs now is a strong and reliable leader, not a stable leader,” the outspoken Aso said in trying to position himself as more qualified to be prime minister.

Later in the day, the two candidates gave policy speeches before the public in Shibuya Ward.