Yukio Hatoyama
Yukio Hatoyama, head of the Democratic Party of Japan

In campaigning for the Lower House election, the Democratic Party of Japan will push policies that may seem to voters like “bitter medicine,” such as lowering the minimum taxable income level, to show the party is thinking seriously about the nation’s future, DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama said.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partners — New Komeito and the New Conservative Party — only present “sweet” policies, Hatoyama said in an interview with The Japan Times. He gave as an example the tapping of the 500 billion yen reserve fund in the fiscal 2000 budget to increase public works projects, to win voters ahead of the June 25 election.

“But I doubt if the nation’s financial health will allow such expenses,” with its outstanding debt reaching 645 trillion yen in fiscal 2000, he said.

The DPJ, the largest opposition party, wants a lower minimum taxable income threshold, which is currently set at 3.684 million yen, but more child and education benefits to support low income families, Hatoyama said.

“(The tax issue) might be a bitter one for voters,” he said, acknowledging that including it in an election pledge is a gamble. “But I want the voters to judge which party is seriously thinking about Japan’s future.”

The main issue in the campaign, however, is whether the public wants a centralized government or a decentralized one, he reckoned.

The DPJ is pledging in the election that if it emerges victorious, it will seek to limit the focus of the central government to diplomatic relations, national security, justice and currency, and give more authority to local governments.

Hatoyama said Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s recent contentious remark that the public should acknowledge that Japan is “a divine nation centering on the Emperor” will not be a major issue in the election.

“We do not intend to only contest the ‘divine nation’ remark,” he said. However, he admitted the prime minister should have never made such a remark.

Although Hatoyama did not spell out how many seats his party needs to win to deem itself victorious, he said the DPJ’s goal is to gain more than the LDP and corner the coalition camp so it will not hold a majority in the chamber. But a more realistic goal, he said, is to come first in proportional representation seats.

“If that goal is achieved, I would consider it a message that the voters want a DPJ-led government,” he said.

Asked which party he will team up with if the ruling triumvirate fails to keep its majority, Hatoyama said he will welcome anybody who agrees with the DPJ’s policies.

The current government proved an alliance formed merely to hold a majority in both chambers will end in failure, he said, noting he will approach individuals and factions instead of parties.

But he ruled out an alliance with the Japanese Communist Party. While the JCP seems eager to tie up with the DPJ, Hatoyama said the two parties share very few policy goals.

“The JCP prefers a big government, while we aim for decentralization,” Hatoyama said. “Opinions of the two parties also differ on the emperor system, security issues and the economic system.”

Hatoyama indicated that he hopes to team up with Koichi Kato, a senior member of the LDP, adding that to do so, Kato will have to muster the “courage” to take a “dauntless move” and defect from the LDP.

But since Kato, a former chief Cabinet secretary, is widely seen as one of the most likely candidates to win the next LDP presidency, his defection would seem unlikely, Hatoyama said.

In the long term, Hatoyama said he is looking toward the next Upper House election, scheduled for next year, in hopes of taking over the government by holding a single majority in both chambers.

It is important to win the coming election so the results will lead to victory in the 2001 election, he said.