Hatoyama, Aso trade barbs in first showdown since call for election

by Masami Ito

Prime Minister Taro Aso and Democratic Party of Japan President Yukio Hatoyama held their first one-on-one battle Wednesday since the Lower House was dissolved last month, and the two attempted to attack each other over which party was suitable to lead.

But the open debate, hosted by the nonprofit National Congress for 21st Century Japan, lacked heat as both Aso and Hatoyama reiterated their policies and respective criticisms.

Aso stressed that the biggest difference between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the DPJ was that his party was consistent and responsible.

“The biggest difference from the DPJ is that we have the ability to be responsible,” Aso said. “A policy platform needs to have a realistic (financial) backing and consistency. The LDP has the ability to show that platform and to realize the policies.”

Hatoyama argued that policymaking needs to shift from being ruled by bureaucrats to being led by politicians. This bureaucrat-oriented politics was the core reason for the government’s wasteful spending and “amakudari,” the parachuting of retired government officials to high positions in private companies, he said.

LDP lawmakers “had their eyes only on becoming the prime minister or becoming Cabinet ministers . . . and just left the policies up to the bureaucrats,” Hatoyama said. “Essentially, the politicians should have taken control and come up with policies while holding discussions with the people.”

The prime minister seized the opportunity to deal a blow to the DPJ’s security policy, a weak point of the party.

Foreign policy and security issues “are the basis of national security and I think it would be difficult to entrust the safety of Japan to a party that wavers,” Aso said.

The DPJ had strongly opposed a special antiterrorism bill to enable the Maritime Self-Defense Force to continue refueling multinational ships in the Indian Ocean engaged in counterterrorism activities. The party has repeatedly rejected the legislation in the Diet, but it avoided clarifying its position in the its 2009 platform. If it wins the Aug. 30 election, as polls predict, the DPJ may seek ties with the Social Democratic Party, which opposes any military dispatch abroad.

On Wednesday, Hatoyama said the DPJ doubted the effect of the refueling mission and said his party would find other means to assist Afghanistan. But at the same time, he agreed with Aso in saying foreign policy and security issues were very important and the DPJ would not make immediate sweeping changes.

“If we take control of the government, we have no intention of changing everything at once,” Hatoyama said. “We are aware that continuity is important and we plan to take realistic measures.”