The ruling Democratic Party of Japan has announced it will hold an election to choose a new party leader on Sept. 21.
Three DPJ lawmakers--Hirotaka Akamatsu, a former farm minister; Kazuhiro Haraguchi; a former internal affairs minister, and Michihiko Kano, another former farm minister--threw their hats into the ring to challenge Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
As the incumbent, Noda is believed to have the upper hand over the challengers. The fact that three politicians have decided to challenge Noda’s leadership indicates there are deep concerns among party members about dwindling public support for the DPJ.
The party should use the poll to redefine its political identity and take a first step toward regaining public confidence.
DPJ leadership elections in recent years revolved around one politician: former party chief Ichiro Ozawa. These elections were no more than futile power struggles between Ozawa supporters and the anti-Ozawa camp.
The upcoming election, the first to be held since Ozawa bolted from the party with dozens of loyalists in July, should be marked by meaningful debate on key policy issues.
Topping the list of priority issues should be the integrated tax and social security reform, including a consumption tax hike, which the Noda administration has been pursuing.
Among the candidates, only Haraguchi has voiced his dissent on the Noda administration’s move to push through the reform following an agreement reached by the DPJ with the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.
Both Akamatsu and Kano have expressed a commitment to the three-party deal, although they are holding Noda responsible for divisions in the ruling party.
More than 70 lawmakers, including Ozawa and his group, have left. The ruling party appears to have geared up for more focused policy debate.
The four candidates are basically agreed on the need to wean Japan from its dependence on nuclear power generation. We hope they will build consensus within the party on specific steps toward that energy policy goal through election debates.
What is disappointing is that none of the four politicians running for the party leadership election is articulating a clear vision for the future of this nation and of Japanese society.
The DPJ is now in a serious identity crisis.
During its campaign for the 2009 Lower House election, the party made a set of election promises based on a welfare-oriented policy agenda. After it came to power, however, the party withdrew many of the promises one after another in the face of the fiscal restraints that made it difficult to carry them out.
The enactment of the bills for the integrated tax and social security reform has been the Noda administration’s main political achievement.
But this initiative has blurred the policy difference between the DPJ and the LDP.
Some lawmakers of the ruling party have started rebuking the Noda government for acting as if it were a faction of the LDP. Such criticism clearly reflects the strains within the party, which has become clueless about what it is trying to achieve.
It will probably not be easy for the party to redefine its political identity.
But the integrated reform and the issue of nuclear power generation may offer some clues as to how the party should tackle this challenge.
The burden of dealing with the excessive public debt and the sticky problems related to the production of electricity with atomic energy should not be passed on to future generations.
Future generations, who don’t have the right to vote in elections today, are the weak, and policymakers should take responsibility for their well-being.
The DPJ should take advantage of the opportunity offered by the leadership contest to develop a new policy agenda from such viewpoints.
Meanwhile, LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki has decided not to run for his party’s leadership election, while several middle-ranking and senior party members have announced their candidacy.
The LDP has been saved from a further political decline by the DPJ’s poor performance, but the main opposition party is also struggling to map out a clear future for itself.
Both parties should keep it firmly in mind that voters are not paying attention only to their public faces.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 11
- « Prev
- Next »