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In past elections, “devolution” was hardly an issue because political parties thought the subject would not rouse voter interest. Even if local government leaders made demands, political parties did not seriously heed them. Things are different ahead of the Aug. 30 Lower House election.

This time the issue of how to devolve central government authority to local governments has moved to the foreground. The National Governors’ Association held a public discussion meeting on devolution with representatives of the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito and the Democratic Party of Japan, then graded each party’s manifesto policies with regard to devolution. Out of 100 points, Komeito scored the highest with 66.2 points followed by the LDP with 60.6 and the DPJ with 58.3.

Gov. Yasushi Furukawa of Saga Prefecture, head of the grading committee, said all three parties “passed.” In short, there does not seem to be much difference among them. It appears that they hastily adjusted their party platforms to placate the governors. For example, they all agreed to set up a body prescribed by law for consultations between the central and local governments.

The DPJ even promised to let local government representatives take part in a national strategy bureau that it plans to set up directly under the prime minister. It received a high grade from the governors’ association for promising (1) to halve the number of local government subsidies tied to central government approval and (2) to eliminate the financial burden shouldered by local governments when the central government carries out major public works projects under national plans.

But the DPJ scored poorly when it comes to plans to secure revenue sources for local governments. The party, for example, calls for abolition of surcharges on road-related taxes — which happen to be a revenue source for local governments — while failing to mention how to make up for these losses.

All in all, the nation’s governors have succeeded in getting solid promises from the parties concerning devolution. They need to carefully watch whether the promises are faithfully implemented after the election.

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