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Sunday, July 15, 2012
Alternatives by Mr. Ozawa
Former Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa, who bolted the DPJ to protest against Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's plan to eventually double the consumption tax rate from the current 5 percent to 10 percent from October 2015, inaugurated a new party on July 11 together with 36 other Lower House members and 12 Upper House members.
In the Lower House, his new party is the No. 3 party, following the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party. Whether the new party can grow in strength depends on its ability to work out attractive and effective policy measures.
This is the fourth time that Mr. Ozawa has formed a new party. According to a Kyodo News poll in early July, only 15.9 percent of those polled said they put their hopes in Mr. Ozawa's new party.
The party suffers from a shortage of veteran lawmakers. While Mr. Ozawa has been elected to the Lower House 14 times, most lawmakers of the party have been elected to the Diet just once or twice. The new party lacks political funds, too, because it cannot receive government subsidies for a political party since it did not exist at the time of the 2010 Upper House election.
In sum, Mr. Ozawa has launched the new party in difficult circumstances. Therefore, it is all the more important for him to develop a policy program that dispels suspicions that he is just presenting palatable slogans to get votes.
Mr. Ozawa named the new party Kokumin no Seikatsuga Daiichi (People's Lives Come First) — none other than the catchphrase the DPJ used in the 2009 Lower House election.
The appellation shows that Mr. Ozawa, who as DPJ secretary general helped the DPJ come to power by winning the election, feels that Mr. Noda and the current DPJ leadership betrayed voters by tying up with the LDP and Komeito to push the consumption tax raise, which was not included in the DPJ's 2009 election manifesto.
As its two main policies, the new party proposes ending Japan's reliance on nuclear power generation and opposing the consumption tax hike. The new party's two main policies offer voters clear alternatives to the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito. Mr. Ozawa has to present a time-bound road map to reduce and eventually end Japan's reliance on nuclear power.
He must present a convincing argument concerning the risks of the consumption tax raise against the backdrop of the long period of deflation in Japan and the European financial crisis.
Mr. Ozawa has not ruled out raising the consumption tax eventually. He must show concrete ways to reduce government waste and break bureaucratic vested interests — things that must be done before raising the tax. He also must present a long-term reform of Japan's social security system. His ability as a true political leader is being tested.