Staff writer

The expanded Democratic Party of Japan aims to recover the public’s trust in politics and present itself as worthy and capable of taking the helm of government, according to its designated leader, Naoto Kan.

The new DPJ, to be formed through the opposition camp amalgamation of the DPJ, Minseito (Good Governance Party), Shinto Yuai (Amity Party) and the Democratic Reform Party, will be officially inaugurated with a party convention April 27.

Aiming to challenge the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Kan’s chief target of criticism is Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, the LDP leader, who he blames for the faltering economy. “Examining the past two years of work by the Hashimoto administration, it is obvious that Hashimoto has failed in various policies, including administrative reforms and fiscal restructuring,” Kan said. “It is clear that Hashimoto made completely wrong decisions on handling the economy.”

The prime minister should resign to take responsibility for his failings, Kan said, adding that if he does not, the DPJ will corner him.

The new party, which is expected to have about 135 members in both the House of Representatives and House of Councilors, will be the largest opposition party in the Diet and the second-largest among all parties after the LDP, which holds 378 seats. “I want the public to consider the DPJ a tool for participating in politics,” Kan said during a recent interview with the press. “I want to make the party reflect grassroots voices at the national level.”

However, it appears that the public no longer places much hope in a new party. In the March 30 Lower House by-election for the Tokyo No. 4 constituency, the candidate backed by the four parties that will form the new DPJ lost to the LDP-backed candidate despite a series of scandals involving top bureaucrats as well as the looming recession.

But voter turnout was the lowest ever for a Diet election in Tokyo at 37.65 percent, and Kan said he wants to give those who did not go to the polls some hope that his party can make a difference. “Five out of eight eligible voters did not vote,” said the 51-year-old politician. “I want to do things that will make them want to vote.”

But how he will do this is another matter. In the interview, Kan disclosed a draft of an economic package worth 10 trillion yen — 4 trillion yen in tax cuts and 6 trillion yen worth of public works projects — with a focus on dealing with the aging of the population and environmental destruction. “I would like to propose new types of public works projects, such as new types of city planning, to make it easier for the elderly and those in wheelchairs to get around the city,” he said.

He also called for recovering damaged seacoasts and providing elementary school students with personal computers. But his ideas, he admitted, have not even been put on the table for discussion at any level of the party.

This is an example of what his close ally, Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the current DPJ and designated acting secretary general of the new party, has identified as Kan’s conflicting good and bad points: He can exercise leadership well but sometimes goes too far without consulting others.

In fact, many members of the three other opposition parties, Minseito and Shinto Yuai in particular, are concerned that the new DPJ may go farther left than they wish.

Regarding foreign policy, security issues in particular, Kan said that although both the new DPJ and the LDP consider maintaining the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty the main pillar of Japan’s security policy, the DPJ looks to reducing the size and number of U.S. military bases on Okinawa.

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