First in a series

Staff writer

The Liberal Democratic Party has obviously made many policy mistakes that are responsible for the current economic stagnation and can change nothing if it remains in power, said Tsutomu Hata, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition group.

The DPJ, headed by Naoto Kan, is trying hard to show that it is capable of taking power since its reform in late April when it amalgamated with four opposition parties. In the Upper House elections on July 12, the DPJ will appeal to the public with the campaign motto “your vote can change politics.”

“I have heard from so many across the country who are dissatisfied with the LDP and are even angry with its policies, which are unable to uplift the economy,” Hata said in an interview. “In a democracy, it is the election that turns such dissatisfaction into hope.”

Hata stressed that nothing will change under LDP rule, even if each member tries hard. Hata defected from the LDP with Ichiro Ozawa, the current head of the Liberal Party in June 1993 and created the now-defunct Shinseito.

The LDP has failed to foresee the economic situation in Japan, Hata said. Stagnation has resulted because a special tax cut has ended and an increase in the consumption tax and medical fees has been implemented, he said.

Although the government was forced to revise the Fiscal Structural Reform Law to allow more pump-priming measures, it is not enough to help the government implement permanent tax cuts, which are needed to stimulate the economy, he said.

The revised law allows the government to issue deficit-covering bonds if the economy continues to fall, but it still maintains the target year of cutting the fiscal deficit to 3 percent or less of gross domestic product by 2005, although it was extended from the original 2003.

Hata is very critical of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto for failing to admit his responsibility for misguiding the economy and for making light of Diet deliberations. “In Diet deliberations, Hashimoto had been maintaining that the fiscal 1998 budget was the best. However the day after the Diet cleared it, he proposed a supplementary budget,” Hata said. “That has made the public, including the market, distrust whatever the government says.”

The problem for the DPJ is that most of the unsatisfied voters have not turned their attention toward the opposition. While approval for the Cabinet hit its lowest rate at 27 percent in a recent major newspaper poll, 10 percent supported the DPJ, compared with 36 percent for the LDP.

Because of this low support, Hata said it is necessary to appeal to those people who think nothing will change, no matter the leadership, to make them believe that a change will occur if they vote for the DPJ. “I understand that people have become apathetic because Shinshinto, which was established to vie with the LDP, has failed,” Hata said. “But many reforms began under Morihiro Hosokawa’s administration,” which was inaugurated in August 1993 with no alliance with the LDP.

Hata said the DPJ would like to make the Upper House elections a springboard for the party’s future advancement.

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