Just as the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election campaign is making headlines, Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, formally announces his candidacy in the No. 1 opposition party’s leadership race and discloses his platform. By emphasizing the need to rectify what some people see as a widening economic gap between the rich and the poor under the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Mr. Ozawa is targeting the policy line pursued by Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the front-runner in the LDP leadership race.

The DPJ leader, due to be automatically re-elected party chief Sept. 25 since no other candidates are expected, says his mission is to deprive the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito of their Upper House majority in next year’s election. The task will be daunting, as he must hone his policy ideas, sell them to the public in a way that’s easy to understand, maintain unity within his fragile party, and build strong election machines across the nation.

Mr. Ozawa’s platform consists of two major thematic planks: “Toward an ordinary nation through common-sense politics” (his basic ideas), and a “just society toward a nation living together” (his policy measures). His platform is apparently designed to counter Mr. Abe’s platform, whose top priority is constitutional revision.

With Mr. Koizumi’s populist style in mind, Mr. Ozawa warns that under LDP rule the “extreme and biased politics of demagogy” has prevailed and is deepening Japan’s crisis. He says his “common-sense politics” will create stability and trust. In contrast to Mr. Abe, who is mum on Japan’s responsibility for World War II and criticizes the pacifist Preamble of the Constitution, Mr. Ozawa says Japan should endeavor to establish a peace for Japan and the world and to conserve the Earth’s natural environment — on the basis of “self-examination” of Japan’s wars in the 1930s and ’40s.

Mr. Ozawa says Japan should exercise its individual or collective rights of military defense only when the nation faces an imminent and unprovoked attack — again a dig at Mr. Abe, who thinks that collective defense rights should be exercised even when the Self-Defense Forces are deployed overseas.

It is clear that Mr. Ozawa places top priority on establishing social safety nets as a rallying point against the future Abe administration. As an alternative to Mr. Koizumi’s heavy inclination toward deregulation and Mr. Abe’s proposal to give those who have failed in business a “second chance” to build a career, Mr. Ozawa offers safety nets that ensure social stability as the precondition for free competition. He declares that he will build “Japanese-style safety nets” in employment, social welfare and food security.

To stabilize employment, he calls for a policy to push nonpermanent workers toward becoming permanent workers and for a basic rule to provide equal wages to permanent and nonpermanent workers alike if they do the same work for the same number of hours. He says the basis of laws governing employment practice should be to ensure stable jobs for as long as possible, and praises Japan’s traditional lifelong employment system as an important safety net.

His other proposals include: using all revenue from the consumption tax for social welfare spending, strengthening scholarships to enable more children from poor families to receive a higher education, attaining self-sufficiency in basic food production (now at 40 percent), and introducing a deficit-payment system (paying farmers the difference when their production costs exceed the market price), while pushing farm trade liberalization. Instead of subsidizing local governments, he favors transferring tax-revenue sources to them, starting compulsory education at age 5 and making senior high school compulsory.

His ideas seem attractive to the public, but Mr. Ozawa needs to flesh them out. For example, he does not specify a consumption-tax rate for the future. He needs to show how the government can raise enough revenue to pay for swelling social welfare spending. The same can be said about the proposed deficit-payment system for farmers.

He takes the position that Japan can actively participate in United Nations’ peacekeeping activities without violating the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. But he does not mention his long-standing idea of creating an entity separate from the SDF to carry out U.N.-sponsored missions, apparently fearful of opposition from within his party. He should not be afraid of engaging members of his party in discussion to work out the details of his platform and make it persuasive.

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