LDP off the policy autopilot: Ishiba

by Alex Martin

Now that they find themselves in the opposition camp, Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers will have to undertake policymaking with far greater vigor than in the days when the party was in power, the newly appointed LDP Policy Research Council chairman said.

In a recent interview, Shigeru Ishiba explained that when the LDP was the ruling party, emphasis was placed on deliberating policies drafted by the government and balancing conflicting interests, rather than on actually devising policies from scratch.

“Lawmakers will now be asked to draft their own policies based on personal knowledge or the expertise of various information sources, think tanks and scholars,” Ishiba said.

“And that will require at least two to three times more commitment compared with when we were in power.”

Ishiba, 52, a veteran lawmaker who has previously served as defense minister in the Cabinet of Yasuo Fukuda and farm minister under Taro Aso, is a known policy wonk, especially on national security and foreign policy.

He has often been characterized as a “gunji otaku” (military geek) for his knowledge and love of military equipment, but commands widespread respect for his ability to boil down complicated policy issues into easily understandable terms.

During his stint as defense minister, Ishiba oversaw the passage of a contentious bill that enabled the resumption of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in aid of U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan.

When asked what he thought about the Democratic Party of Japan’s pledge not to extend the mission once the law authorizing it expires in January, Ishiba argued that the operation should be continued as it has played a prominent role in preventing the spread of terrorism and the flow of illegal drugs.

Ishiba said that if the government decides to shift its support for U.S.-led antiterrorism operations from the refueling mission to humanitarian aid, it will need to seriously consider the safety and cost of such a switch.

“We need a fundamental debate on what kind of support is really best-suited for Japan,” Ishiba said.

Regarding the scrapping of the controversial Yamba Dam project in Gunma Prefecture, Ishiba said that while the LDP must concede it was a public works fiasco from the get-go, it should question whether the DPJ’s plan of halting the project is legitimate, cost-effective and actually echoes the sentiments of local residents.

“We need to seriously deliberate in the Diet in a manner that can stand up to public scrutiny all aspects of the project, including from the standpoints of law, cost and the people actually affected,” Ishiba said.

The Tottori Prefecture native said he also plan to go after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ chief, over his false fundraising statements.

“Naturally, the prime minister knows most about what happens with his own money, so he will need to clarify in the Diet what went on,” he said.

Looking toward next summer’s Upper House election, Ishiba stressed that the LDP must present a fresh image to show voters the party has really changed.

“More opportunities should be given to younger lawmakers, so they can effectively exercise their abilities,” he said.

Ishiba also said the LDP’s policies should be reworked.

“In the past, our polices weren’t exactly clear-cut. . . . But policies should be simple and easily understandable for everyone, and visually enhancing like supermarket fliers,” he said.