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In a rare opportunity Monday for the leaders of the seven major political parties to debate policy, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori went on the attack over the Liberal Democratic Party’s ability to carry the June 25 Lower House election.

During a three-hour debate session at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Mori countered opposition criticism over the ruling bloc’s falling approval ratings, saying that Japanese still lack “mature comprehension” about the coalition government.

“What’s most important is the stability of the government (brought about by forming the coalition),” Mori told the session, in reply to DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama, who broached the LDP-led coalition’s unpopularity.

Mori went on to criticize Hatoyama for not having presented to the voters a clear picture of how he will realize his plan to establish an alternative government after the election, given that the DPJ alone will unlikely have a majority in the Lower House.

In response to Mori’s comments, Hatoyama said: “I view your coalition as an example of what not to follow. I would not like to have the idea that securing an overwhelming number (of lawmakers to take power) should be the top priority.”

Hatoyama reiterated that the DPJ will never team up with the Japanese Communist Party — unless it changes part of its critical party principles. However, he admitted that he would need “a large amount of flexibility” once the election is over — suggesting the party’s possible partnership with opposition allies.

As for the economy, Mori stressed that the 0.5 percent growth in fiscal 1999, which marked the first positive growth in three years, was the result of the government’s “fast and dauntless” policy.

Mori said he expected the economy to grow 2 percent in fiscal 2001 and would implement fiscal structural reform after that rate of growth is achieved.

But opposition party chiefs expressed doubt about the touted recovery because some figures showed that the economy is still ailing.

JCP President Tetsuzo Fuwa pointed out that private consumption was still low while Takako Doi of the Social Democratic Party claimed that the public does not feel their lives are improving.

While the opposition party leaders claimed that the consumption tax should be used specifically for welfare-related expenses, Mori showed reluctance.

“(The policy) needs further understanding from the public,” he said.

Although Mori said that he does not intend to increase consumption tax at present, Hatoyama said there shall come a time when the government would have to raise the tax.

As for the Bank of Japan’s “zero-interest-rate” policy, the opposition leaders argued that the rate should be raised in the near future, but Mori said he believes that the central bank should continue the policy for the time being.

Mori was careful not to comment on his course of action if the party fails to secure 229 seats in the chamber, the figure that LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka quoted as being the acceptable minimum.

“I will consider the matter when the time comes,” Mori said.

Nonaka has made clear that he will step down from his post if the party does not achieve this goal.