KAMAKURA, Kanagawa Pref. (Kyodo) While it is not unknown for a politician to ditch a party when it is on the verge of losing power, Keiichiro Asao’s July 24 announcement to quit the up-and-coming Democratic Party of Japan and run for the Lower House this month as an independent appears suicidal.
His decision is all the more surprising because he is not only turning his back on an 11-year career in the Upper House but also spurning the chance to be a minister if the DPJ comes to power. Showing what it think of his actions, the DPJ was quick to expel Asao, who was its shadow defense minister, rather than accept his resignation.
But the 45-year-old Asao said he could not stand the way the party was becoming increasingly embroiled in what he called a “competition of dole-out policies” with the Liberal Democratic Party in the runup to the Aug. 30 election.
“A change of government is certainly a major issue, but we will have to look beyond that to build a new Japan,” Asao said. “The problems Japan is facing will not be solved just by changing the administration.”
Asao reiterated that his decision to run as an independent is not intended to place obstacles in the way of a change in government, because should he win a seat in the more powerful lower chamber he plans to vote for DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama as prime minister.
But he said the DPJ, by putting too much emphasis on wrenching power from its long-governing archrival, is no longer calling for painful but necessary reforms.
“In the past, the DPJ was a reformist party, seeking reforms that do not necessarily sound nice to voters,” he said. “But it has come to project policies in a way to butter up the electorate, having grown too fixated on changing the government.”
The DPJ’s election manifesto focuses on household income, including giving ¥26,000 per child per month in family allowances, providing direct income indemnity for farm households and removing tolls from highways.
Asao said the only fundamental difference with the LDP’s platform is that the DPJ aims to distribute fiscal resources directly to households, whereas the LDP aims to do so indirectly via intermediary organizations.
What both platforms lack is a growth strategy for Japan to find new sources of income for the future by shifting resources from inefficient to efficient sectors, so the people can bear the spiraling costs of social security in a graying society while maintaining their living standards, he said.
“There is not much time left,” he argued, citing an estimate that social security costs will double in 15 years. At that rate, the economy will have to grow 5 percent annually if the public is to shoulder the increased costs and keep livelihoods from deteriorating.
If the DPJ takes the reins of government, the party will have to comply with its generous platform until the next Lower House election, which could come at any time in the next four years, Asao said. Should it do otherwise, it will have lied to the public, he said.
“The policies may sound pleasant for now, but they will be bankrupted due to the dearth of fiscal resources,” he said. “Or they may still be implemented, but only with the effect of increasing debt unless a growth strategy is pursued.”
But Asao’s stand will come to nothing if he falls behind any one contender in the race in the Kanagawa No. 4 single-seat district.
His rivals will include DPJ candidate Kazuyoshi Nagashima, a local mayor, and the LDP’s Jun Hayashi, who was serving his first term in the Lower House before it was dissolved July 21 for the first general election in almost four years.
While at first blush it would appear that Asao’s candidacy will split the local DPJ support base and work to the LDP’s advantage, all three candidates have denied this will be a typical campaign dominated by two major parties.
Asao did not go further than citing local circumstances and a “considerable” number of people who he said want to vote for the DPJ in the district, but not for the DPJ’s chosen candidate, alluding to Nagashima.
Both Nagashima and Hayashi suggested that Asao may well make inroads among conservative voters and he has been campaigning strenuously enough to put Hayashi on his guard.
Hayashi said many voters in the district have cast ballots for him for the Lower House and Asao for the Upper House.
Hayashi, who first ran for the Diet in 2003, added that since last fall, jockeying for the coming election has been so intense that in one instance both parliamentarians attended a bazaar at a small-town school that didn’t draw even one local assembly member.
In that sense, Asao was already well-prepared when he announced his candidacy by leaving the DPJ, Hayashi indicated.
Nagashima, who is targeting a “large indefinite number” of swing voters as well as the traditional DPJ support base, including labor unions, said Asao’s action has cleared up voter confusion over which one is the local DPJ candidate in the coming race.
Asao said that by cutting off his retreat, he wants to show voters in their 20s and early 30s that “everybody has a chance to be someone,” as he feels a strong sense of crisis over the fact that young people appear to be giving up on their aspirations.
In the last general election in 2005, voters gave an overwhelming victory to the LDP because, he believes, they expected Junichiro Koizumi’s reform initiatives to bring about a vibrant Japan.