The campaign for the election of the Democratic Party of Japan leader has officially kicked off. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and three other DPJ Diet members have announced their candidacy.

They all must present clear policy agendas, and it is especially important that the three candidates vying for Mr. Noda’s job show how their stances would differ from his and provide alternative platforms for DPJ members to consider. The DPJ will hold a party convention on Sept. 21 to elect the new party leader.

The three others who have announced their candidacy are former farm minister Hirotaka Akamatsu, former internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi and former farm minister Michihiko Kano. With the support of influential DPJ politicians such as DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi, DPJ policy chief Seiji Maehara and Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada, Mr. Noda is expected to easily defeat his challengers.

Mr. Noda said that he cannot give up on his administration halfway through and would like to make efforts to revive the DPJ and Japan. But he must seriously look at the fact that by the time of his current candidacy, 71 DPJ Diet members had left the party to protest against the tripartite agreement among the DPJ, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito to raise the consumption tax rate, which was not part of the DPJ’s manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election that was responsible for bringing the party to power.

Although the tripartite deal included an agreement on reforming social welfare, it failed to provide a clear picture on the future of social welfare in Japan.

The DPJ’s 2009 election manifesto included the establishment of a minimum pension system that will be funded through taxation, but it is not clear what has become of this proposal.

The problem is that the DPJ has lost the stripes that distinguished it from the LDP over the last three years and that the line that separated them has become blurred. Mr. Noda and the other candidates need to make clear where they want to differentiate the DPJ’s policies from those of the LDP.

Apart from the future shape of the social welfare system and policy measures to cope with the declining birthrate, the candidates must present policy related to nuclear power generation.

Even Mr. Noda said that he will attach importance to the DPJ’s proposal to aim to build a society that does not rely on nuclear generation for its power needs. The candidates should present a time-bound road map to reduce and eventually end Japan’s reliance on nuclear energy and policy measures to achieve the goal.

They also need to make clear their stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade zone, which could drastically and negatively impact the social and industrial structure of Japan, and explain why they support or oppose it.

On the diplomatic front, Japan faces such issues as the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma on Okinawa Island and deteriorating relations with China and South Korea over territorial issues.

The bottom line for the candidates is that they must show how they will make the DPJ fulfill its duties as a governing party.

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