Ozawa vows new party will dethrone Noda’s DPJ

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Ichiro Ozawa vowed Wednesday to devote himself to expanding the support network for his new party to knock the ruling Democratic Party of Japan off its throne in the next Lower House general election.

His new party, Kokumin no Seikatsu ga Daiichi (People’s Life First), celebrated the opening of its new headquarters in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Wednesday morning, taking another small step toward strengthening its foundation before the next election, which must be held by summer 2013.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, the DPJ president, has the ultimate authority to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election at any time and Ozawa has repeatedly stated his belief that it won’t be long before a poll is held.

“We must do our best to gain public trust in the upcoming general election to seize government power (from the DPJ) and form a government that will truly benefit the people,” Ozawa said. “Let’s make sure that our voices and our presence play a large role in the people’s lives and the government.”

At a news conference later, Ozawa listed three “emergency” measures the party would focus on to safeguard the lives of the people: zero reliance on nuclear power, no tax hike and decentralization.

The kingpin also revealed the party’s intention to eliminate nuclear power in 10 years.

“No nuclear reactors have been reactivated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and, realistically, we have not had any shortage of power. Therefore, we are thinking of promoting further technology improvements and the use of new alternative energies,” Ozawa said.

The leader also criticized Noda’s goal of raising the consumption tax.

“Raising the consumption tax amid deflation and recession would cool consumption and directly hit the lives of the vulnerable, especially midsize and small companies and those in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries. We will firmly put a stop to it,” Ozawa said.

Members will discuss and decide on the details of party policies and other issues, including diplomacy, by the end of the extended Diet session on Sept. 8, Ozawa added.

Political observers say the populist platform of Ozawa’s party is based on what sounds good to voters. They say his aim is to gather as much support as possible amid the harsh reality that most of his followers — freshmen lawmakers with little name recognition — are likely to face uphill re-election battles in the next poll.

Parts of the new platform also contradict past stances taken by Ozawa, who rejected Noda’s tax hike bid in the June Lower House vote, but was once a strong advocate for raising the levy.

In his 1993 book “Nihon Kaizo Keikaku” (“Blueprint for a New Japan”), he said the consumption tax should be raised to 10 percent from what was 3 percent at the time, while income and residence taxes should be slashed.

He also tried and failed to hike the tax to 7 percent in 1994 under the leadership of then-Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa to cover welfare costs.

Yet, in the end, it was the tax hike that forced Ozawa and 48 other lawmakers to leave the DPJ and form People’s Life First, placing it as the third-largest party after the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party.

Ozawa has also been reaching out to other parties, including Kizuna Party and New Party Daichi, to expand his influence. On Wednesday, Kizuna Party deputy leader Nobuaki Miwa revealed his group will merge with People’s Life First in the near future.

Despite the future merger, Ozawa’s new party has gotten off to a rough start.

A recent Kyodo News poll found more than 80 percent of those surveyed do not expect it to have a significant impact on politics, while a mere 16.5 percent voiced their support.

Muneo Suzuki, head of New Party Daichi, who also made an appearance at the headquarters’ opening ceremony Wednesday, reassured People’s Life First lawmakers that the support provided the party with more than enough momentum to move forward.

Suzuki, a convicted bribe-taker who currently is not a lawmaker, also expressed his intention to cooperate with Ozawa’s party, although without merging.

“New Party Daichi will firmly follow Mr. Ozawa’s lead when we should, and when the time comes for an election, I would like to form a scrum with (party) President Ozawa to produce lawmakers that will benefit Japan,” Suzuki said.

Ozawa, who helped bring the DPJ to power in 2009 by unseating the LDP government, left the ruling party after voting against Noda’s sales tax hike bill, which cleared the Lower House.