Five in LDP race lay out platforms

Presidential hopefuls highlight their experience, achievements and how they differ

by Masami Ito and Kazuaki Nagata

The five candidates in the Liberal Democratic Party presidential race unveiled their platforms to fellow lawmakers Thursday, stressing their experience and trying to differentiate themselves from each other.

The five — LDP Secretary General Taro Aso, economy and fiscal policy minister Kaoru Yosano, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, former anchorwoman and ex-Defense Minister Yuriko Koike and former LDP policy chief Nobuteru Ishihara — lined up at LDP headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

Each had 15 minutes to outline their policies. There were no debates or question-and-answer sessions.

Aso, currently considered the front-runner, stressed his 12 years of experience in various ministerial and top LDP posts, and cited his knowledge of diplomatic and economic matters. He said that if he were elected president, he would be prepared to lead the LDP in a general election.

Key LDP lawmakers have said the next party president, who would be certain to become prime minister, should soon dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, has begun gearing up for a Lower House poll in which it hopes to unseat the LDP-New Komeito ruling coalition.

“I will eventually face a battle in which we will have to risk the fate of our party . . . and seek the judgment (of the public) to determine which party has the power to run the nation’s economy and society,” Aso said. “And the answer will be obvious — it isn’t the DPJ. There is no way it can be the DPJ.”

Other candidates also criticized the DPJ, the main threat to the LDP in any upcoming election.

Koike stressed the importance of having the Maritime Self-Defense Force continue refueling the multinational force engaged in counterterrorism operations in the Indian Ocean, something the DPJ has repeatedly opposed.

The LDP “must confront the DPJ, which says that the refueling activities in the Indian Ocean are unconstitutional,” Koike said. “There is no way we can hand over government power to the DPJ, which does not explain in detail the role of Japan and just uses its power to resist everything.”

Yosano, on the other hand, pointed out that the LDP should return to its roots and responsibly ask the public for cooperation and support of policies that are necessary, even if they might be unpopular with voters.

“It’s not the DPJ that we have to fight. I am certain that fighting the enemy inside us is the key to reviving the party,” he said.

An advocate of raising the consumption tax, Yosano again mentioned the need for the hike, saying he believes it is unavoidable to guarantee the nation’s social security system.

He said the government needs to consider raising the 5 percent consumption tax to 7 percent or 8 percent within three years, adding it will then probably be necessary to hike the levy to 10 percent by 2015.

Yosano added, however, that it is essential for the government to remain fair, and mentioned the possibility of cutting the corporate tax rate for small and midsize businesses and introducing tax cuts for low wage earners.

Even though the possibility of raising the consumption tax is a key issue for the LDP, no other candidate addressed it at length in their speeches Thursday. Ishiba said an increase may be necessary in the future, while Koike said the issue has already been resolved because no one is planning to raise the tax immediately.

Ishiba, a former defense minister who prides himself on being a security expert, reminded fellow lawmakers that Thursday was Sept. 11, the day of the terrorist attacks in New York in which 24 Japanese died. He also recalled that Japan only contributed financially to the Gulf War and that despite the large amount — $13 billion — little appreciation was shown by the other coalition members.

Ishiba expressed concern that Japan will return to those days if the country ends the MSDF mission in the Indian Ocean.

“Many countries are sacrificing lives in Afghanistan . . . and it’s not only Japanese people’s lives that are important,” Ishiba said. “Why are we trying to win the war on terrorism? Because terrorism denies everything — democracy, freedom, human rights and freedom of religion.”

Ishihara, who was administrative reform minister and transport minister in former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet, mentioned his experience in fighting bureaucracy and urged administrative reform to prevent taxpayer money from being wasted.

“Eliminating that waste and distributing the money to others who need help — I think that’s what administrative reform is about,” Ishihara said.

“I’ve seen and faced the resistance of bureaucrats during reform,” he said, voicing confidence that further progress in civil-servant reform is possible.