The three candidates for the Liberal Democratic Party presidency on Saturday called for a complete makeover of the party in the wake of last month’s devastating general election defeat.
After losing power to the Democratic Party of Japan, the first public debate among the candidates turned largely into an opportunity to review the party’s fall from grace.
“We rode on policies that the bureaucrats put forward,” Lower House member Yasutoshi Nishimura said at the Japan National Press Club, adding that the conservative party’s crushing defeat was rooted deeply in public disenchantment with LDP policies.
“We must get rid of any ‘behind closed doors’ politics, and dissolve the factions within the party,” the 46-year-old lawmaker said.
Lower House member Taro Kono, 46, echoed Nishimura’s views. “This is a chance for us to redefine the LDP,” he said at the debate, calling for a generational change within the party to transform it into a group of lawmakers that heeds public needs.
Former Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, 64, widely reported to be the front-runner in the race, said the LDP still has a purpose to serve.
But while Tanigaki pushed for unity among those left standing in the aftermath, Kono challenged the veteran, saying he opposed the idea of blindly playing as a team.
Those still stuck in the old ways shouldn’t be welcomed as members, Kono said, insisting the LDP rebuild itself from scratch to counter the DPJ.
The three also revealed differences of opinion on some issues, including how to handle contentious Yasukuni Shrine.
Kono said he supported building a new national memorial to honor the war dead, saying it would make it easier for the Emperor and the prime minister to pay their respects.
Visits by political figures to Yasukuni have long been a cause of tension between Tokyo and its neighbors because the Shinto shrine also honors 14 Class-A war criminals.
Kono’s father, Yohei, a previous chief Cabinet secretary, made a statement in 1993 acknowledging that the Imperial Japanese Army was directly and indirectly involved in establishing and managing “comfort stations,” a euphemism for brothels, and the transfer of so-called comfort women.
While considered more of a hawk than his father, Kono stressed that construction of a memorial is “the most natural way to resolve the issue” and that it will allow foreign envoys in Japan to visit such sites more freely.
However, Tanigaki and Nishimura were not sold on the idea.
“I understand that the enshrinement of A-class war criminals complicates the issue,” Tanigaki said. But he also said that the government can’t easily get involved in changing an independent religious corporation and that he opposes building a new memorial.
Nishimura, a member of a bipartisan group of lawmakers that supports visits to Yasukuni, was more straightforward in rejecting the idea.
“I make visits to Yasukuni as a lawmaker, as well as an individual,” he said, criticizing the idea of building a new site as diminishing Yasukuni’s significance.
As for the consumption tax, Tanigaki led the other two candidates in openly advocating a tax hike.
Japan can not be sustained by a low consumption tax, Tanigaki said, repeating his view on fiscal reconstruction. The former finance minister proposed raising the consumption tax to 10 percent from 5 percent when he unsuccessfully ran for the LDP presidency in 2006.
While Kono supports financing the national pension with tax revenue, he did not make an explicit statement on the tax hike issue.
The candidates kept personal jabs at a minimum and directed even fewer at the DPJ, except to say that the ruling bloc lacks the resources to execute some of the policies proposed.