The Diet session has effectively ended, and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party have started gearing up for their respective leadership elections.
Within the DPJ, Environment Minister Goshi Hosono has decided against running in the party presidential election, while Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, former internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi and former farm minister Hirotaka Akamatsu have announced their candidacies.
In the LDP, President Sadakazu Tanigaki and Nobutaka Machimura, former chief Cabinet secretary, have expressed their intention to run. Nobuteru Ishihara, party secretary-general, Shigeru Ishiba, former party policy chief, and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are also showing an interest in joining the contest.
The related moves that have been made so far within these two main parties have shown troubling signs that each leadership race is shaping up to be a popularity contest to choose each party's "poster boy" for the upcoming Lower House election.
That's not good news for the nation. One of the two new party heads is likely to lead this nation as prime minister after the Lower House poll. The candidates should make clear their political creeds and policy agendas to make sure that the party elections will be contests over qualifications as party leader.
What the candidates should do first is to make a public commitment to follow through with the deal on integrated tax and social security reform struck among the DPJ, the LDP and New Komeito.
Since the enactment of legislation for the integrated reform, relations between the two main parties have become strained, partly because of the passage of a censure motion against Noda through the Upper House, with the support of the LDP.
There is no prospect for the establishment of a new council for social security reform, which, under the agreement among the three parties, is supposed to develop a blueprint for the reform within one year.
Details of the integrated reform have yet to be worked out, and many key issues remain to be tackled. How should the health-care and pension programs be bolstered, and how should policy efforts to support child care be expanded as the aging of the nation's population continues toward peak levels?
The remaining tasks also include developing measures to ease the regressive taxation effects of the scheduled consumption tax hike and to enhance the income and inheritance taxes.
The agreement among the three parties has committed them to shield the social security system from partisan warfare and to work together to secure the long-term financial stability of the system even if power changes hands. That's the long and short of the deal.
This is a formal agreement among political parties. Breaching it would be tantamount to betraying the public, who are facing an increased tax burden due to the consumption tax raise.
Some politicians within the LDP, including Abe, are apparently maneuvering for a policy alliance with Osaka Ishin no Kai, a local party headed by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto that is planning to field candidates in the upcoming election, rather than with the DPJ.
Osaka Ishin no Kai has proposed transferring the consumption tax revenue to local governments. If the LDP chooses the Hashimoto group over the DPJ, the three-party deal on the integrated reform could fall apart.
If that happens, the question will be what kind of political framework should be formed to establish a stable and sustainable social security system. The candidates have the political responsibility to offer clear and convincing answers to this question.
There is also a long list of other policy challenges confronting this nation. Japan clearly needs to work out a new energy policy by settling the issue of restarting idled nuclear reactors, further liberalize its trade with key trade partners and repair its soured relations with its neighbors.
Serious disagreements on these issues within both the DPJ and the LDP are hampering the efforts to deal with these challenges.
The two parties should regard their leadership elections as a good opportunity to clarify their platforms and renew their commitments to key policy proposals for their campaigns for the general election.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 8
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