The New Conservative Party says the core policy issues in the Nov. 9 general election are boosting national security, revising the Constitution and reviving the economy, but its own tallest order will be getting its few members voted in.
The smallest component of the ruling coalition it forms with the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, the NCP will face a tough battle given its failure to get official LDP support for three of the 11 candidates it plans to field in single-seat constituencies.
“We will just have to fight our own race against LDP candidates in some districts,” party leader Hiroshi Kumagai said in an interview with The Japan Times. “But we want to appeal to voters with our grand policy design.”
While Kumagai succeeded in winning LDP support in his own constituency, Shizuoka No. 7, Minoru Kiuchi, an LDP member, is also running in the district as an independent.
Despite the LDP decision to support Kumagai, its local chapter supports Kiuchi. Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori even stumped for Kiuchi last week, agitating the Kumagai camp.
“There isn’t much we can do (about LDP support) now,” Kumagai admitted. “But rather than meddling in constituency matters, we hope to win in all 11 (single-seat) districts and cooperate on policy issues in the coalition after the election.”
On security issues, the NCP wants to upgrade the Defense Agency to a ministry to boost Japan’s defense capabilities. It also advocates establishing a permanent law that stipulates the role of the Self-Defense Forces in overseas postconflict reconstruction.
Kumagai argued that Japan needs a general law clearly defining how SDF troops should operate in the areas of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, instead of drawing up special laws on their dispatch every time a situation arises, such as in the recent case of Iraq.
“We need to demonstrate to the world that Japan can share a responsible burden in terms of people and not just money,” Kumagai said. “Without establishing a framework for that, Japan can never pursue a strong diplomatic policy.”
The NCP also advocates a revision to Article 9 of the Constitution, which renounces war, so Japan can engage in collective defense.
Kumagai said he agrees with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has publicly said that Article 9’s lack of recognition of the SDF as the military is strange.
For a small party like the NCP, which only had nine seats when the House of Representatives was dissolved, bringing such security issues to the fore is seen as a way to maintain a presence as public attention focuses on the rivalry between the LDP and the Democratic Party of Japan.
“We want to stir up and lead policy debates within the ruling coalition and influence the overall direction of policies,” Kumgai said.
As one example, he said, his party was the first to put forth the goal of achieving 2 percent nominal economic growth by fiscal 2006, a goal now backed by the LDP and New Komeito.
He noted that economic revival and addressing the collapsing national pension system are major voter concerns.
Kumagai was clear about the need to raise the consumption tax in order to finance a planned increase in the government’s burden in the pension system to 50 percent of the total from the current one-third. But he remained vague about when and by how much the levy should be hiked.
“We cannot say exactly when or how much — we have to wait until we see economic growth back in the 2 percent to 3 percent range and prices rising by 1 percent to 2 percent.”
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