Debates miss big picture

Liberal Democratic Party leader Sadakazu Tanigaki and Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi had separate one-on-one debates with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in the Diet Wednesday, although the debates were a long time coming. Five months have already passed since the Hatoyama administration began. Such debates should be held more frequently and on a regular basis.

The opposition leaders devoted much of their question time to issues of politics and money, as exemplified by the political funds-related irregularities involving Mr. Hatoyama and Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa. Replying to Mr. Tanigaki, Mr. Hatoyama said that he would consider asking Mr. Ozawa to explain in the Diet certain matters related to the indictment of three of his aides. Mr. Ozawa is reluctant to do so. Mr. Hatoyama could make him explain before the Council on Political Ethics in both houses of the Diet. Also, the Prime Minister agreeed to Mr. Yamaguchi’s proposal for forming a consultative body between the opposition and ruling parties to discuss problems related to political funds.

Adding to the DPJ’s headaches, suspicion has surfaced that the office of Ms. Chiyomi Kobayashi, a DPJ Lower House member from Hokkaido, may have received some ¥16 million in illegal donations from the Hokkaido Teachers Union under the umbrella of the Japan Teachers Union, a main supporter of the DPJ. The party should launch internal probes to determine the facts of the matter, and whether there are other similar cases.

Replying to Mr. Yamaguchi’s question about the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa, Mr. Hatoyama reiterated that he will make a decision on the issue by May. When asked by Mr. Tanigaki about the consumption tax, he said that while discussions begun by Finance Minister Naoto Kan on a possible hike in the tax are welcome, the rate will not be raised before the next Lower House election.

The debates did not address big picture issues, such as how to grow new industries or the best direction for Japan’s foreign diplomacy. Opposition leaders should come up with key-issue policies that are clearly distinct from those of the DPJ so as to offer real alternatives in the coming Upper House election.