Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s resignation has shifted much of the media’s attention on to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The speculation about who will become the next LDP president and, presumably, prime minister may be putting the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, out of the spotlight.
But Kenji Yamaoka, the DPJ’s Diet affairs committee chairman, confidently called on the party to stay focused on its policies and on improving people’s lives, so voters will support the DPJ in the next election.
“The people’s lives are in a really tough situation. Many feel like they won’t be able to make it through this year,” Yamaoka said Wednesday in an interview with The Japan Times.
Several candidates may vie for the LDP presidency, for which voting will take place on Sept. 22 and campaigning starts Sept. 10, overlapping the DPJ’s presidential election campaign starting Sept. 8 for a Sept. 21 poll.
While current DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa is likely to be reinstalled without a vote, many LDP members are calling for open policy debates in their presidential race to appeal to the general electorate, thereby shifting the public’s attention to the LDP poll.
But Yamaoka said many voters are fed up with the LDP’s sideshows aimed at winning popularity.
“The idea of having a new person is interesting, (but) I think people know that they were deceived by Koizumi with his ‘assassin candidates’ show,” said Yamaoka, who has dealt with Diet affairs this past year in the divided Diet, referring to popular former LDP Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Looking back over the year, Yamaoka argued that although the divided Diet has often been criticized for prioritizing power games over policy debates, it has in fact been good for voters and the opposition parties and only damaging for the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc.
He said the opposition parties were able to reveal “the waste of tax money” that had been concealed in the past, and make advances, including civil servant reform and briefly blocking the extension of road-related tax hikes. “In the past, the opposition parties were criticized for not being able to do anything other than oppose the ruling parties,” he said.
“It was just for a month, but we were able to lower the gasoline price,” which had never been previously done by the opposition, he said.
And he said no matter who the next LDP leader is, the DPJ’s policy toward Diet affairs will not change, meaning the party will continue to be cooperative with bills that concern people’s lives and oppose those that do not.
Speculation continues that whoever becomes the new prime minister will dissolve the Diet and call a general election, as a new leader tends to enjoy initial high public approval ratings.
If that happened, the Diet session would again be stalled, and issues including the rising food and oil prices would be left unresolved.
“I understand that people are hoping for politicians to ease their concerns and protect their lives,” Yamaoka said.
But he said the next prime minister will be the fourth installed by the LDP since the last general election, which was held in 2005, noting this completely ignores the public’s voice.
“There is a chance things will become worse” if a Cabinet that does not reflect the public’s voice controls politics, he said.
Yamaoka, a 65-year-old veteran lawmaker, added that even if the LDP gets a boost from the public with the creation of a new Cabinet, it won’t make much difference because there is no way the ruling camp can secure more than two-thirds of the Lower House seats in an election.
“We will definitely win if we have an election now,” he reckoned.