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Friday, Sept. 3, 2010


Mr. Kan vs. Mr. Ozawa

After some meanderings, the campaign for election of the next president of the Democratic Party of Japan officially started Wednesday, with Prime Minister Naoto Kan and former DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa vying for the post.

As Japan is facing serious problems in the economy and in other fields, and since the DPJ head becomes prime minister, the two politicians must clearly present their grand vision of the future of Japan, road maps toward that goal, and policy measures to solve the problems assailing the country in that process.

Mr. Kan and Mr. Ozawa held a meeting on Aug. 31 to avoid a head-on collision through the mediation of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. But the two failed to reach an agreement, which may have been better for them. Reaching an agreement in such a way would have been criticized for deal-making behind the scenes.

The open campaign will give both party members and people a chance to see clearly how the two view the current situation Japan finds itself in and how they are trying to solve the problems.

The DPJ is criticized for holding a presidential election at this time when the government is confronted with urgent issues to tackle. Mr. Ozawa's candidacy seems to be motivated by his perception that the current DPJ power structure under Mr. Kan will damage his political life. But Mr. Kan's performance as prime minister also apparently caused Mr. Ozawa to fear that he may ruin the DPJ's principles, and thus the DPJ government itself.

Mr. Kan's sudden call for a rise in the consumption tax, departing from the DPJ's Upper House election manifesto, indicated that he was co-opted by finance bureaucrats, contrary to the DPJ's basic idea that lawmakers should play a leading role in developing policies, taking the initiative away from bureaucrats. His flip-flops over the tax and his borrowing the Liberal Democratic Party's idea of raising the tax 10 percent aroused suspicion that he is not qualified to be prime minister.

Mr. Kan also dropped the idea of upgrading the national strategy office to a national strategy bureau for the task of developing a future grand vision for Japan and deciding on an outline to prioritize the budget. To Mr. Ozawa and many other people, this came as action tantamount to burying the DPJ's principle that lawmakers, including Cabinet members, exercise leadership in working out policies.

The ruling coalition's loss of an Upper House majority in the July 11 election has made it extremely difficult for the DPJ government to have the Diet pass bills. But Mr. Kan has not yet done any serious work to break the impasse in the Upper House.

In a sense, what Mr. Kan did or did not do encouraged Mr. Ozawa's candidacy. But he has to overcome a bad image stemming from a political funds reporting scandal, which led to the indictment of his three secretaries. A big question is whether party members and people will accept his explanations.

Statements made by Mr. Kan and Mr. Ozawa show that both are quite different in their approach to the problems facing Japan.

Mr. Kan said that the government's most important job now is creating jobs and reducing unemployment in order to build an "energetic Japan." Mr. Ozawa said he would do his utmost to faithfully implement the DPJ's 2009 Lower House election manifesto, which includes giving a child allowance.

Mr. Kan said that if the implementation of the manifesto becomes difficult due to a shortage of funds, he will revise it and explain it to voters. Mr. Ozawa called for raising the child allowance from the current ¥13,000 per month per child to ¥20,000 in fiscal 2011 and to ¥26,000 from fiscal 2012. He said that the necessary funds can be obtained by revamping the nation's total budget of ¥207 trillion. The Hatoyama administration could not revamp the total budget. Mr. Ozawa needs to explain how he will carry it out.

Both Mr. Kan and Mr. Ozawa should avoid turning discussions on the manifesto into a debate about spending. They should discuss larger ideas in the manifesto, such as creating jobs through eco-friendly policies, pushing renewable energy, government investment in education and research, and society as a whole being responsible for child rearing.

On the economic front, Mr. Kan said he will push his growth strategy announced in June. Mr. Ozawa called for a possible intervention in the currency market to stem the yen's rise and for ¥2 trillion in stimulus measures.

Mr. Kan said he will push financial reconstruction and pursue drastic reform of the tax system, including the consumption tax. He said that to enable people to live without worries, a certain increase in their financial burden should be accepted. Mr. Ozawa called for thorough efforts to cut government waste before discussing a consumption tax raise.

As for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Mr. Ozawa said that he will start new talks with the United States and Okinawa. Mr. Kan said that he will push the May agreement with the U.S. while trying to reduce the burden on the Okinawan people.

The bottom line for the two candidates' campaigns should be to present their policy proposals in detail and explain how they are possible in a language that is understandable to people.

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