National / Politics

New Komeito to emphasize noncombat SDF role in Iraq

With campaigning for the July 11 House of Councilors election officially starting Thursday, New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki says his party has to get the message out that the Self-Defense Forces will stick to humanitarian activities even after joining a U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq.

“I understand (the public) is concerned that the word ‘multinational force’ gives the impression that the SDF are entering a new stage” in their overseas activities, Kanzaki said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.

He said the idea probably reminds people of the 1991 Gulf War, when a similar multinational force engaged in military strikes against Iraq. The SDF has never participated in a multinational force based on a U.N. resolution, as Japan cannot exercise its right of collective self-defense under the war-renouncing Constitution.

With the pacifist lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai as its core support group, Kanzaki said New Komeito needs to explain fully that there will be no change to the current SDF activities in Iraq even if they are part of a larger force.

“The fact is that (their activities) will not change . . . and they will only continue to engage in ongoing humanitarian and reconstruction activities in (the southern Iraq city of) Samawah,” Kanzaki said.

“Essentially, the only change will be in the official procedures as a result of the (June 30) handover of sovereignty from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the interim government formed by Iraqis.”

On the issue of pension reform, Kanzaki said there is a need to explain that the nation’s ailing pension system would fall apart without the New Komeito-led reform scheme, which is designed to raise premiums and reduce benefits in the years to 2017.

“The reason why the pension (reform) issue is unpopular is that the public does not yet (properly) understand the pension reform plan,” he said.

Kanzaki expressed strong resolve to integrate the pension scheme covering salaried employees and the mutual-aid pension program for public servants.

But he’s skeptical about melding them with the basic national pension program for self-employed people, as suggested by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. The New Komeito chief said this would be problematic, considering such difficulties as ascertaining accurate income figures for self-employed people.

While New Komeito is the junior partner of the Liberal Democratic Party in the coalition, the LDP so far seems to be trying to keep electoral cooperation with its ally a low-key affair.

This is apparently due to criticism over how many of the party’s candidates overtly urged supporters to vote for New Komeito in proportional representation districts in the general election last November in exchange for gaining New Komeito’s massive vote blocs in the single-seat constituencies.

But Kanzaki said that overall, electoral cooperation was proceeding steadily, and that the two parties should be able to work together based on the understanding that they exercise moderation in such endeavors.

He said New Komeito must secure the 10 Upper House seats it currently has up for re-election by scoring “perfect victories” in the three constituencies of Tokyo and Osaka and Saitama prefectures, and garnering 10 million votes to win at least seven seats in the nationwide proportional representation portion of the ballot.

As long as the coalition secures at least a majority in the Upper House, Kanzaki said, the parties’ leadership won’t face any fallout.

Even if the LDP gains a majority in the chamber on its own, “that would be the result of our wholehearted support” during the campaign, Kanzaki said. “In that sense, the two parties have built up an unshakable relationship founded on trust through working as a coalition for four years and eight months.”

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