• Bloomberg, Jiji

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Yoshihide Suga, the front-runner to become Japan’s next prime minister, repeated his calls for lower mobile phone fees ahead of elections this week expected to land him the country’s top job.

“Some may say that it’s wrong for the government to meddle in what private companies are doing, but phone radio waves belong to the people,” Suga said in an interview Sunday on Fuji TV. “The top three firms have monopolized 90 percent of the share and competition isn’t working.”

Suga is the clear favorite to win party elections Monday and take over from Shinzo Abe as prime minister with the job of digging Japan out of its worst economic slump in decades. Abe is stepping down due to health issues.

He has pledged to keep the ultra-easy monetary policy of Abenomics, but his concern about the high cost of mobile phone service suggests pleasing consumers may be a higher priority for him than reaching the Bank of Japan’s 2 percent inflation target quickly or keeping boardroom executives happy.

Suga said cell phone fees for consumers could be cut by 40 percent. In particular, he said he wants the cost of plans with large data packages to come down further.

He added that the government should consider charging the carriers more for the use of public radio waves if they do not lower their charges to subscribers, saying they make profits through their use.

Shares of Japan’s top telecoms have dropped since Suga announced his candidacy, even as the overall market rose. NTT Docomo Inc. declined 2.1 percent, KDDI Corp. fell 1.5 percent, and Softbank Corp. slid 5 percent.

On the question of Japan’s growing public debt, Suga said he’s against setting any limit on bond issuances given the current crisis, although he said he still sees the need for fiscal discipline.

Speaking later on public broadcaster NHK, Suga said Japan’s pandemic-hit economy might need more fiscal stimulus than what remains in current reserve funds.

“If more is necessary beyond that,” he said, “we’ll respond as needed.”

Suga said he hopes to give Cabinet posts to reform-minded lawmakers if he becomes prime minister.

“Bureaucratic sectionalism, vested interests and excessive tendencies not to deviate from precedents will be scrapped,” he said. “We must advance regulatory reforms.”

Suga was cautious about the proposed introduction of an option to allow married couples to register different surnames.

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