No regrets about exit: Fukushima

by Masami Ito

Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima said she has no regrets about leaving the ruling coalition and will only consider returning if the Democratic Party of Japan rules out the Henoko coast as the relocation site for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

“I have zero” regrets about leaving, Fukushima said. “I personally experienced that there were many things we could do as a part of the government and the ruling bloc. . . . But if we had signed (the agreement to move the base to Henoko), the public would have lost their trust in the SDP.”

The SDP left at the end of May after Fukushima was booted out as consumer affairs minister for refusing to endorse the Japanese-U.S. agreement to move the contentious air station from crowded Ginowan to Henoko, a district farther north on Okinawa Island and part of Camp Schwab.

Despite campaigning on a vow to move the base out of the prefecture, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama ended up signing the deal with Washington to keep it within Okinawa, a decision that, along with a money scandal, soon forced him to step down in early June.

The SDP has five seats in the Upper House, three of which will be up for grabs in the July 11 election.

The party is backing 14 candidates, including Fukushima, who will be running in the proportional representation segment.

There was a lot of internal debate over whether the SDP should leave the coalition, and in conclusion, one of its candidates, Masamichi Kondo, decided not to represent the party to protest the move. Kondo is now running as an independent.

Fukushima said the party is prepared for an uphill battle.

“We have to make this a positive step,” Fukushima said. “I think people understood that the SDP will not waver on peace-related issues, that we will honor our words and take action.”

Although the SDP is now technically part of the opposition camp, it remains in the unique position of being able to directly or indirectly support some DPJ candidates.

Fukushima said these decisions will be left to each electoral district, adding that aside from the Futenma issue, the DPJ-led government is moving in a more positive direction than its predecessor, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party.

“The SDP does not think we should go back to an LDP-led government,” Fukushima said. “But at the same time, we couldn’t stay in the current government and agree to moving Futenma to Henoko and building a base there.”

But since Naoto Kan took over as prime minister, another key issue has surfaced that threatens to drive a wedge between the two parties: a future consumption tax hike.

Fukushima expressed concern that without the SDP in the coalition, the DPJ is beginning to lean more toward LDP policies.

“What is it trying to do, go in the same direction as the LDP with the Futenma issue and raise the consumption tax to 10 percent?” she asked.

Fukushima, who strongly opposes the tax hike, said there are other ways to increase revenue, including hiking income taxes on the rich.

The SDP believes Japan’s main social problem is wage disparity and poverty, Fukushima said, adding rectifying an unfair tax system is the answer.

This year, the SDP hopes to enact a revised worker dispatch law that would ban temporary workers from engaging in manufacturing jobs, have the ¥13,000 per month child allowance distributed, increase the number of day care centers and oppose any consumption tax hike.

While the SDP and DPJ are in complete conflict over two issues, she said there are still many areas where they can collaborate.

“I think there are many other themes, like human rights and labor legislation issues, that we can work on together with the DPJ,” Fukushima said.