New ruling bloc gets on same page

LDP, New Komeito agree where they can, sidestep differences

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The Liberal Democratic Party and its ally, New Komeito, on Tuesday formally agreed on key policy issues to pursue when they return to power Wednesday, including prioritizing the reconstruction of the disaster-hit Tohoku region and fighting deflation and recession.

But the agreement signed by LDP President Shinzo Abe and New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi sidestepped points of dispute, such as revising the Constitution and energy policy, particularly pertaining to nuclear power and whether the nation would continue to rely on it.

As for the constitutional revision, the two parties, which will form a coalition government Wednesday, agreed to allow the Diet’s bicameral Commission on the Constitution to consider whether to amend the charter, particularly the war-renouncing Article 9. The panel was formed in 2007, during Abe’s first stint as prime minister.

During the general election campaign, Abe pledged to rebrand the Self-Defense Forces as the more robust-sounding National Defense Force. While the dovish New Komeito, backed by a Buddhist group, has opposed the LDP’s lean to the right, the party said it is encouraging the Diet panel’s debate on the issue.

The two parties also vowed to decrease Japan’s dependence on atomic energy by relying more on renewable energy and thermal power. But they stopped short of mentioning a nuclear phaseout, a New Komeito campaign pledge and a policy instituted by the Democratic Party of Japan.

“Both parties agreed that achieving a nuclear phaseout is impossible within four years,” New Komeito’s Yamaguchi told reporters after their meeting.

The two parties said safety would be the priority before restarting any nuclear reactors, and that any decision to reactivate a reactor would be made by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Both parties expressed a willingness to engage in talks regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade accord, as long as they can pursue conditions that benefit the national interests. Originally, they were opposed to the free-trade framework, arguing the economic partnership would harm Japanese interests.

The coalition partners also vowed to set aside sufficient funds for the coast guard and the Defense Ministry to enhance maritime security.

On the economic front, the two parties agreed to ensure Diet approval of a planned supplementary budget for fiscal 2012 and a regular budget for fiscal 2013 in order to put the economy back on a recovery track.

The agreement also said Japan will set a 2 percent inflation target and carry out drastic monetary easing measures.