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Leaders of Japan’s ruling and opposition parties clashed over how to revitalize the country’s economy, which has been hurt by the COVID-19 crisis, in an online debate held Sunday in the run-up to the general election Oct. 31.

They focused on support measures for households and businesses hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic and medium-to-long-term economic policies.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, also president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, vowed to rebuild the country’s middle class through measures under a new form of capitalism, his signature economic policy.

Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said that the party aims to raise taxes on financial income, differentiating the CDP from the LDP.

During the LDP’s leadership race last month, Kishida showed his eagerness to increase tax on financial income, but he recently suggested that he would shelve the idea for the time being.

The election for the House of Representatives, the all-important lower chamber of the Diet, will be the first since October 2017, with the official campaign period for the upcoming poll set to kick off Tuesday.

The Lower House was dissolved Thursday, meaning that the general election will take place only 17 days after the breakup, the shortest such period in postwar history.

“We will work on making the economy and society affluent by realizing a virtuous cycle of growth and distribution,” Kishida said in the online debate.

As measures to be put into place for the time being, Kishida cited cash benefits for households in need and others facing economic hardships. “We hope to provide the cash handouts quickly by utilizing a supplementary budget,” he said.

Edano said, “We will ask those who reaped benefits from Abenomics to shoulder the burden,” stressing the need to raise financial income tax and corporate tax. Money from the higher tax will be distributed to low-income people to shore up the economy, he said.

Abenomics is the reflationary policy mix launched by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The policy was inherited by Yoshihide Suga, the successor to Abe and predecessor of Kishida.

“We will revive the economy by boosting consumption,” Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Komeito, the coalition partner of the LDP, said, citing the party’s pledge to provide benefits worth ¥100,000 per head for all children aged up to 18.

Japanese Communist Party head Kazuo Shii called for halving the consumption tax rate to 5%. “We need to move away from neoliberalism,” he said.

Ichiro Matsui, chief of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), emphasized that funds for a redistribution policy can be secured through “painful reforms.”

Democratic Party for the People leader Yuichiro Tamaki said that the party will seek to compile a stimulus package worth ¥150 trillion to realize an economy where wages grow.

Aggressive spending was also sought by Reiwa Shinsengumi leader Taro Yamamoto, Social Democratic Party chief Mizuho Fukushima and Takashi Tachibana, head of NHK to Saiban Shiteru To Bengoshiho 72 Jo Ihan De, a party critical of national broadcaster NHK.

Leaders of political parties standing in the upcoming general election pose after a debate Sunday hosted by the video streaming site Nico Nico Douga. | KYODO
Leaders of political parties standing in the upcoming general election pose after a debate Sunday hosted by the video streaming site Nico Nico Douga. | KYODO

The opposition side grilled Kishida over a change in his stance regarding financial income taxation and other policies.

During the LDP leadership race, Kishida presented an income-doubling initiative. But he did not mention the plan in his first policy speech before the Diet on Oct. 8.

Tamaki criticized Kishida on this, saying, “Did you give up the income-doubling plan?”

In reply, Kishida said: “I will certainly pursue the initiative. I believe that this can be attained if the virtuous cycle of growth and distribution is established.”

Earlier on Sunday, senior officials of the ruling and opposition parties had a debate on a television program.

“We’ll work to increase the country’s middle class population to stabilize society,” LDP Secretary General Akira Amari said, demonstrating Kishida’s aim of realizing new capitalism.

CDP Secretary General Tetsuro Fukuyama stressed the party’s resolve to achieve a change of government, saying that it seeks to create “decent politics” instead of politics tainted with problems such as document tampering.

Komeito Secretary General Keiichi Ishii said, “Only the LDP-Komeito coalition can implement policies under a stable government.”

JCP executive Akira Koike said that the Kishida government cannot change the politics of his two immediate predecessors, Abe and Suga.

Nippon Ishin Secretary General Nobuyuki Baba vowed to generate financial resources through bold reforms.

DPP acting head Kohei Otsuka called for the issuance of government bonds to eke out funds for education-related measures.

All 465 seats of the Lower House will be up for grabs in the general election. Of the total, 289 are for single-seat constituencies and 176 for 11 proportional representation blocs.

Before the Lower House dissolution, the LDP and Komeito had a combined 305 seats — 276 and 29, respectively.

The number of seats stood at 110 for the CDP, 12 for the JCP, 10 for Nippon Ishin, eight for the DPP, and one each for Reiwa Shinsengumi, the SDP and the anti-NHK party.

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