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Democratic Party of Japan leader Katsuya Okada is calling for voters’ support in the Sept. 11 general election to bring about regime change and rebuild Japan in the face of ballooning government deficits and a rapidly aging population.

“This is the first election in the 60 years since the war in which a change in regime can be achieved,” Okada said in an interview Monday with The Japan Times.

Okada said his party “wants to seize this opportunity and would like all the people to take advantage” of the chance to help the DPJ take power away from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has dominated the political scene for most of the period since the end of World War II.

Okada admitted, however, his party faces an uphill battle against Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. He said that Koizumi, at least so far, has successfully drawn public and media attention to his postal privatization plan by dramatizing his battle with LDP rebels who voted against his postal reform bills in the Lower House last month.

“The ruling bloc is trying to hide (more important) points at issue,” Okada said. “We must debate more on major themes such as social security, reconstruction of public finance, restoration of school (systems), decentralization and diplomacy.”

Okada said he believes the postal savings and insurance services should eventually be privatized or totally abolished.

“But (Koizumi’s) bills won’t work, and (we) oppose the bills with the conviction of protecting depositors from gambling-like risks,” Okada said. “How on earth would Japan Post, which has never conducted lending, carry out the lending of 35 trillion yen? There’s no explanation on that point at all.”

Reiterating an earlier pledge, Okada said if the DPJ fails to achieve a regime change in this election, he would step down as party leader.

“Our goal is to win a majority single-handedly,” Okada said.

To accomplish this, the main opposition party must add at least 66 seats to the 175 seats it had before Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dissolved the 480-seat House of Representatives on Aug. 8, when his postal privatization bills were voted down in the House of Councilors.

Okada said a DPJ government would raise the consumption tax rate from the current 5 percent to 8 percent within three years to help integrate the three pension programs covering the self-employed, salaried workers and public servants and provide people in different occupations with a level playing field in terms of their pensions.

He said his party also advocates reducing government spending by 10 trillion yen in three years through such measures as halving expenditures on large-scale public works projects and cutting personnel expenses for national bureaucrats by 20 percent.

To improve relations with China and South Korea, Okada said his government would try to facilitate reciprocal visits of leaders between Japan and both countries. If his party succeeds in ousting Koizumi, Okada has also pledged to build a new national memorial for the war dead instead of visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.

Okada pledged that Self-Defense Forces troops would be pulled out of Iraq when their current deployment mission expires in December. He said he wants a Japan that can associate with the United States on equal terms based on their strong economic and security ties.

“Generations older than ours believe that saying something would anger the U.S. But I have no such feeling,” he said, stressing he is a politician from a new, younger generation. “The U.S. is important, but a true alliance should allow Japan to say what it wants.”

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