Fifth in a series

Staff writer

Opposition parties must put forward concrete and clear-cut policy proposals to provide voters with alternatives to the Liberal Democratic Party, according to Etsuya Washio, president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo).

“Given the devastating state of the nation’s economy, Japanese voters should be taking a great interest in politics. But in reality, the reverse is true,” he said.

With the number of voters decreasing with each national election, the people of Japan must blame themselves before complaining about politicians, he said.

At the same time, however, he blames voter apathy on both the LDP and the opposition parties for their inability to propose clear-cut policies. “The issues of top concern in the upcoming campaign are how to ensure sustained economic security, the nation’s economic policies and what to do with the current state of the economy,” Washio said.

Flung into a state of megacompetition in a rapidly growing global economy, Japan is now facing the pressing need to change its economic structure, he said. “What has been done by the government of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, however, will be unlikely to bring about the necessary changes,” he said. “Meanwhile, when we turn to opposition parties — including the Democratic Party of Japan, which we support — they’ve only been crying out against LDP-initiated policies without presenting viable counterproposals.”

In the forthcoming campaign debate, Washio said, opposition parties must make their stance clear by prioritizing policies to stimulate the economy. “If the government is to spend a massive amount of taxpayers’ money to stimulate the economy, then the money must be spent on measures that will bring structural change,” he said.

“In infrastructure projects, for instance, it may be true that a number of local fishing ports require revamping. But the greatest priority is on improving major international airports. Therefore the government should concentrate on airport projects,” he said.

He says that setting such a clear priority is surely difficult for all political parties because it may cause them to lose local votes. Still, he hopes to see such a brave move from the opposition bloc.

“I would not expect them to do so in forming annual general budgets,” he said. “But I believe, at least, they can prioritize projects in a pump-priming package, which is after all an additional expenditure.”

Washio also wants politicians to be candid in explaining the severe state of the economy and its future prospects.

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