Koike, Yosano declare bids for LDP leadership

Field of hopefuls starts to get crowded

by Masami Ito

Former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike and Kaoru Yosano, economic and fiscal policy minister, officially announced their candidacies Monday to run in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election.

Koike is the first woman to take a shot at becoming the nation’s leader.

Following Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s abrupt announcement of his resignation last week, the LDP presidential election has drawn a crowded field, including LDP Secretary General Taro Aso and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, as well as Koike and Yosano.

“Female power is something that Japan can also possess,” Koike told a news conference. “I would like to put into practice policies from the viewpoint of women, so that female power can be put to better use and women can be a part of society while being free from anxiety to give birth and raise children.”

Through her experiences as both environment and defense minister, Koike pointed out that there are limits in the vertically structured bureaucracy in which she said “there exists an invisible border for each minister.”

“To break through (the vertically structured bureaucracy), there needs to be extremely strong leadership,” Koike said. “It is only lawmakers that can draw the image of the state, and I believe it is our duty (to do so). The bureaucrats can’t do it.”

Koike rejected the idea of increasing the consumption tax in the near future.

“I think it is unthinkable” to raise the consumption tax now, Koike said. “But I know that (raising) the consumption tax in the future is an option for Japan to continue as a sustainable society.”

Koike stressed her idea of establishing an environmental tax to tackle global warming and to change the country’s energy structure.

Veteran lawmaker Yosano, meanwhile, stressed his expertise in economics, emphasizing that he would prioritize the passage of the ¥1.8 trillion supplementary budget in the next extraordinary Diet session.

Key lawmakers of the LDP-New Komeito ruling coalition have been calling for the LDP’s next leader to immediately dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election.

“I have the strong understanding that passing the supplementary budget is the most important and urgent matter,” Yosano said. “I think we must make a political choice prioritizing the public’s lives and the economy rather than immediately dissolving the Lower House and calling for an election.”

Yosano, from the Tokyo No. 1 district, stressed that he wants to create a balanced society between urban and rural areas.

“We must abandon the egoistic idea that only urban areas need to prosper and ensure that Japan as a whole can develop and prosper in harmony,” he said.

Yosano is also an acquaintance of Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, through the game of go.

Last week when Fukuda announced his resignation, he stressed the troubles he had in the divided Diet, complaining that Ozawa and the DPJ repeatedly opposed important bills without even listening to the LDP’s viewpoint.

“I think the LDP needs to be ready to be tenacious and flexible when discussing (policies) with the DPJ,” Yosano said. “I think it’s OK to go on bended knee (in a gesture of pleading) repeatedly if it is for the public.”

Meanwhile, a group of conservative LDP lawmakers visited some of the candidates in the afternoon, asking them to focus more on their vision of Japan’s future rather than on economic policies.

“True, we need to talk about economic policies and financial reconstruction in an economic situation of despair, but many of the public already know that,” said Tomomi Inada, the leader of the group. “But without principles for the future of our country, there are no policies. I don’t think the public will support a leader who does not talk about the country’s goals or principles.”