A study group within the Liberal Democratic Party has submitted an interim report on introducing the “doshu” system of regional governments to the Abe administration. The crux of the idea is to divide the nation into nine to 13 regional blocs and give them greater autonomy than they have now.

The problem is that discussions about the system are going on without the full knowledge of the general public. A December 2006 poll conducted by an organization comprising Kyodo News and 38 newspaper companies indicated that 62 percent of those surveyed opposed the doshu system — more than twice the number of supporters. The idea should be presented in a manner that enlightens the public about both the merits and demerits.

The study group proposes introducing the new system in eight to 10 years. Under doshu-sei, the central government’s roles would be limited to diplomacy, national defense, preservation of national land, assurance of food supplies, and management of natural resources and energy. It cites three goals of the doshu system: promoting local autonomy and strengthening the financial and administrative powers of basic local autonomous bodies or municipalities; establishing effective administrative systems; and creating regions whose vitality would attract the attention of the international community.

Basic local autonomous bodies would be in charge of such things as health and nursing care, education, firefighting and urban planning. What is unclear is how national standards for key services such as education and social welfare would be maintained. Another problem is that the basic local autonomous entities envisaged would be created through mergers of existing municipalities. Many people don’t appear enthusiastic about more mergers. The poll showed that only 19 percent of those surveyed were satisfied with the recent large-scale mergers of municipalities but that 62 percent still supported devolution.

The government must focus first on pushing measures that will strengthen the financial and administrative powers of local government under the present system.

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