Now that there is a fall election in the air, once again politicians are couching their platforms with the buzzword “manifesto.”

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi took things a step further when he recently said the policy pledges he makes when he seeks re-election as president of the Liberal Democratic Party in September will be, if he wins that race, the LDP’s platform in the House of Representatives election, which is expected to take place in November.

British political parties are known for coming out with manifestos in the form of a policy booklet in which pledges and goals are laid out, including specific targets, timetables and financial means.

Former Mie Gov. Masayasu Kitagawa, now a Waseda University professor, has been credited with being the first politician in Japan to deem his platform a manifesto — a concept that caught on with other politicians.

Kitagawa stuck to his action plan during his eight years in office. He then went on to urge other reform-minded governors and gubernatorial candidates to draw up their own manifestos during campaigning for April’s elections.

Politicians maintain the term manifesto sells well with voters. They differentiate it from “koyaku,” which, although literally meaning policy pledges, instead is considered a slogan-laced political “wish list” of promises easily broken.

“A manifesto is a contract with voters that states clear policy objectives with numbers. It allows voters to keep track of achievements,” Kitagawa said last week during a news conference of the National Congress for 21st Century Japan, a group of academics, business leaders and journalists promoting political reforms that he coheads.

“A manifesto may also include bitter medicine for voters, like tax hikes, because following through with pledges requires financial resources,” Kitagawa said.

“But in the April gubernatorial elections, the candidates who boasted manifestos during their campaigns fared well,” he said, stressing that voters increasingly prefer politicians with clear goals.

Kitagawa’s group wants all parties to come up with manifestos for the next general election, as well as candidates for the LDP presidential poll. The winner of that race would then have a party mandate to uphold the agenda for the general election.

Last week, Koizumi told his LDP colleagues he will unveil administration policy pledges, or “seiken koyaku” — the quasi-official translation of manifesto — in August for the presidential election. If re-elected, he said, the pledges will become the party’s platform for the general election.

Koizumi’s term as LDP head and thus prime minister expires Sept. 30. If re-elected as LDP president, the term will run for three years.

Koizumi has avoided using the English term manifesto, figuring it is hard for the general public to understand. But his remarks underscore that both manifesto and seiken koyaku will be buzzwords in the fall election season.

In an interview in the latest issue of the monthly magazine Chuokoron, Koizumi said his pledges in the LDP race include privatizing postal services within his three-year term, submitting a bill to privatize public expressway companies during the next ordinary Diet session, and cutting subsidies to local governments by 4 trillion yen in three years.

“In the general election, you will see many policies that are different from conventional LDP policies,” Koizumi told the magazine. “It will be crystal clear to everyone that the LDP has really changed.”

LDP pledges for national elections are traditionally drawn up by bureaucrats and decided on in behind-the-scenes party policy committee talks. Candidate pledges in the LDP presidential race mean little when general elections come around.

LDP heavyweights critical of Koizumi have lashed out at his plan to make his agenda that of the party’s in the general election.

“He is a dictator,” Hiromu Nonaka, former LDP secretary general, said last Thursday. Mitsuo Horiuchi, head of the party’s executive council, said Monday: “Not everything the prime minister says will be LDP policy just because he says so. Many people in the party are against this, including myself.”

But Koizumi appears confident, and increasingly provocative.

“If they don’t want me, they should get someone else,” Koizumi said last week in response to the criticism. “I don’t understand why I’m called a dictator for saying we should debate specific policies in the LDP election. That is the basis of democracy.”

In an apparent bid to silence the critics, LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki, a close ally of Koizumi, said Tuesday he has circulated a paper to party members stating that the prime minister will closely consult with them when laying down his policy objectives.

The Democratic Party of Japan is meanwhile working on its own manifesto for the general election.

DPJ leader Naoto Kan, in an interview in the same Chuokoron edition, said his party’s goals would include making expressways free and adopting a comprehensive economic revival plan within 100 days of taking office, assuming the largest opposition party captures a Diet majority and hence the prime ministership.

“Our party will compete in the general election with a manifesto,” Kan said in the interview. “If the LDP can’t come up with its own manifesto, that would be a fatal flaw.”

The DPJ hopes to unveil its manifesto by the end of August, but the specifics are still in a working group’s brainstorming stage. New Komeito and the Liberal Party are also working on such agendas.

Despite Koizumi’s rhetoric, it remains to be seen how specific his platform will be or if the LDP sticks with it for the Lower House election.

“Even if you say we should be specific about targets, including numerical ones, they will have to be limited because we can’t promise what we can’t deliver,” LDP policy chief Taro Aso said during a recent meeting of junior LDP lawmakers also bent on concocting party manifestos.

“Besides, no one knows what will happen in four years,” Aso said, referring to the Lower House members’ term.

About such skepticism, Kitagawa said: “Nothing is perfect at the start. But parties should try issuing manifestos for the next general election. If they do this a few times, manifestos will evolve into legitimate, measurable platforms, and will become part of the system.”

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