National / Politics

Ruling, opposition party leaders visit disaster-hit areas ahead of snap election

Kyodo

The ruling and opposition parties are making a priority of improving the country’s preparedness for natural disasters as Japan gears up for the Lower House election next month.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kicked off his stump tour in Iwate Prefecture on Wednesday, and talked with residents still living in temporary housing more than 3½ years after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc on the prefecture.

“I believe there are emerging signs of progress,” Abe told a group of evacuees in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture. “I will work to make sure people can go back to where they were (before the earthquake) as much as possible.”

Disaster preparedness is one of the key areas in the Dec. 14 House of Representatives race, especially after a magnitude-6.7 earthquake hit Nagano Prefecture on Saturday, injuring more than 40 people.

Critics and residents in disaster-hit areas in the Tohoku region say reconstruction has been slow, and have been ramping up calls for the country’s budget to be implemented as originally planned.

Headed by Abe, the Liberal Democratic Party has pledged to promote disaster reduction and improve responses to natural disasters with a focus on making infrastructure such as buildings, roads and dykes more quake-resistant.

Still, Abe appears reluctant to extend the country’s five-year intensive reconstruction period through fiscal 2015, during which the government has been providing financial support to rebuilding efforts.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, said in its campaign platform that the party would extend the reconstruction period.

“I listened to the voices of local people who were affected by the quake. I’ll consider what we can do at village, prefectural and national levels,” DPJ leader Banri Kaieda told reporters Wednesday after visiting the village of Hakuba, which suffered extensive damage in Saturday’s quake.

The DPJ has pointed to the importance of disaster education, and being “selective” in public works projects aimed at making Japan more resilient against natural disasters.

Abe dissolved the Lower House on Friday for a snap general election. He billed the move as a way to judge whether the public supports his “Abenomics” policies, although the LDP’s energy and defense policies could also factor into the election.

Before Abe and Kaieda visited Nagano, candidates running from Komeito and the Japan Innovation Party, and the Japanese Communist Party also inspected the magnitude of the disaster and listened to the needs of local people.

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