Japan's ruling LDP lays out its campaign platform
Prime Minister Aso's long-ruling party is under fire as polls indicate strong support for the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. The vote is Aug. 30.
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"They have very ambitions plans, though I certainly believe it would be hard to implement them, says Masayasu Kitagawa, a former governor of Mie Prefecture who now leads the Research Institute of Manifesto at Waseda University in Tokyo. "This is unprecedented. This is not a change within the existing framework, but they say they will change the nation's system as a whole."Skip to next paragraph
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The DPJ is appealing to voters with promises to cut wasteful spending and boost household incomes. It is taking a more populist tack, dishing up plans to give more spending money to consumers by offering child allowances, making gas cheaper, and eliminating highway tolls.
"Taxes do not belong to bureaucrats and political insiders. We will restore control of taxpayers' money to the people," reads the DPJ platform. "The budget, realigned according to clear criteria, will help improve your livelihood and your life."
Sales tax pitch
The DPJ has promised not to raise the sales tax for the next four years. While the LDP concedes the sales tax has to be raised from 5 percent, it says it will not do so until after 2011 – and only if the economy recovers.
LDP members and critics have questioned how the DPJ will pay for these measures.
"Their drawback is they have few macroeconomic policies" in their platform, says Waseda's Mr. Kitagawa.
The problem, Mr. Morita argues, is "the DPJ has yet to recognize that the country is in economic crisis. They give little thought to economic recovery policy."
That fault lies in part with the media, which, unlike foreign media, have done little to highlight the seriousness of Japan's recession. Critics explain that by pointing to the media's dependence on government officials for their information.
Critics also point out government leaders' reaction when the collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered global financial meltdown last September.
The economic and fiscal policy minister at the time, Kaoru Yosano, now the nation's finance minister, called for a calm response, saying, "It will have a bee-sting effect on the Japanese economy."
Instead, the economy fell more steeply than those of other developed countries, shrinking at an annualized rate of 15.2 percent in the first quarter of this year, its sharpest decline on record.
The deepening recession has aggravated poverty problems, says Kenji Utsunomiya, leader of the Antipoverty Network, a Tokyo-based civic group. Poor people "used to be looked after by their family, community, and corporation. But now we have more nuclear families, more communities crumbling, and corporations shedding more workers. Then, we found the country's social security systems did not function at all."
Whether those most sharply affected by such problems can make their views known at the polls is in question. "Because more people are losing a place to live, they have no resident certificate, so, they can't vote," says the Tokyo-based lawyer. "Politics is supposed to shed light on such people."