Economy, tax on minds of voters

Interviews find DPJ lacking clear mandate

by Eric Johnston

Voters interviewed Sunday at polling stations in Tokyo and Osaka expressed a wide range of opinions on the Upper House campaign, with some saying the Democratic Party of Japan should continue to lead the country while others were disappointed by its economic policies and inconsistent diplomacy.

Many voters said the consumption tax was the focal point of the campaign because it affects everybody.

The DPJ is trying to open cross-party talks on reforming the tax system so the government can do something to trim the alarming national debt and finance growing social security costs. If the opposition parties refuse to participate, Kan said he might “reference” the Liberal Democratic Party’s plan to double the consumption tax to 10 percent in a few years.

The rest of the parties are mostly against increasing taxes.

In the western Tokyo suburb of Kodaira, 23-year-old graduate student Koki Mineura said he voted for the DPJ’s Toshio Ogawa for the district race, and for Your Party in the proportional representation section.

“I want the DPJ to tackle the nation’s economy,” Mineura said, even though he thinks the DPJ hasn’t achieved anything since taking power.

“I want the DPJ to have a sense of crisis, by seeing one of the opposition parties getting wide support,” he said.

Your Party is the only opposition party that had a chance of winning enough seats to make an impact, he said.

Also in Kodaira, 61-year-old Seiji Horiya said he voted DPJ for both parts, hoping the new ruling party will get the solid footing it needs to achieve its goals.

“I want the DPJ to be stable. If the government keeps changing in a short period of time, nothing will change and nothing will get done,” Horiya said.

“I accept the increase in the consumption tax,” he said. “Compared with European countries, it is too low. But I want the government to clearly state what it is going to use the money for.”

Yoshihiko Murata, a 54-year-old doctor in Kodaira who said he voted for the DPJ in the Lower House election last summer, went for Akira Koike and the Japanese Communist Party this time around because he was disappointed with the many money scandals surrounding the DPJ.

He also expressed concern about the way Prime Minister Naoto Kan was handling the consumption tax issue.

“It wasn’t a wise decision to bring the consumption tax topic to the Upper House election campaign,” Murata said. “I don’t think Kan handled it well. I predict that he won’t do well in handling the issue in future Diet sessions.”

In Minato Ward, Tokyo, corporate executive Ayako Kokuryo, 33, made a selection from Your Party because she thinks it takes economic issues more seriously than any other party.

“The DPJ cut spending for governmental bodies, but I want the government to think about the industries necessary for Japan and to grow our economy,” she said.

Katsuyuki Tochimoto, a 47-year-old company consultant, also supported Your Party and praised its “realistic” policies.

“Your Party’s position is that government spending can be cut even further than the DPJ did. Still, the party isn’t ruling out the possibility of raising the consumption tax,” Tochimoto said. “Their remarks are all correct.”

Yuji Tsukamoto, a 30-year-old legal worker, said the most important issue was whether to give foreigners voting rights. He said the Diet hasn’t examined the issue closely enough under the DPJ, which wants to grant local-level suffrage to permanent foreign residents.

Tsukamoto declined to say which party he voted for, but said it wasn’t the DPJ because it didn’t spend sufficient time deliberating the voting bill.

In Osaka, meanwhile, a steady rain had election officials worried that voter turnout would sink below the 58.64 percent seen in the previous Upper House poll three years ago.

Ten candidates from nine parties, including two from the DPJ, vied for three seats, and the consumption tax and the economy appeared to dominate voter concerns.

“I understand that the consumption tax may have to be raised, but I’m worried about how it will affect the cost of daily living,” said Sumiko Uematsu, 49, who lives in Nishi Ward. “The DPJ hasn’t really explained how it will assist those with lower incomes if the tax is raised to 10 percent, but I’m voting for the DPJ because the other parties will be powerless to stop a raise anyway.”

Prior to the election, much local attention focused on whether popular Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto would endorse a candidate or a party. Hashimoto officially remained neutral and criticized both the DPJ and the LDP.

But some who voted for Hashimoto as governor said that just because they supported him didn’t mean they would vote for whatever candidate or party he might favor.

“Hashimoto has criticized him, but I voted for (LDP incumbent) Issei Kitagawa because I liked that he expressed concern over recent college graduates who haven’t been able to find employment, and wants to ensure they have jobs that will keep them here,” said Yuko Inoue, 29, who works in the Umeda district in Kita Ward.

“Many of my friends who couldn’t get jobs have already left Osaka, and young people are the key to revitalization,” she added.

Among those who decided not to vote Sunday, several said there are too many small parties that vary little on policy.

“What are the real differences between most of those smaller parties? And many of them will probably just consolidate or form alliances with each other after the election anyway,” said Fukuji Nakayama, 52, who lives in Kyoto and was visiting Osaka. “So why bother getting all excited about what they say they will do if elected?”