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Saturday, June 10, 2000

ELECTION 2000: PARTY LINE

LDP-led bloc the only way, Nonaka says


Staff writer

A coalition government led by the Liberal Democratic Party represents the only viable choice when voters go to the polls June 25, according to the party's No. 2 man.

LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka said in a recent interview with The Japan Times that he believes the nation will continue to be ruled by coalition governments for up to another decade, as his party suffered a serious setback in the last Upper House election in 1998 and will not be able to control both chambers of the Diet alone for a while to come.

The LDP, which currently controls the government under a tripartite alliance with New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, is pitching the upcoming Lower House vote as a choice between the current LDP-led alliance and any bloc that might be formed with the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, at its center.

"There is no other way to lead Japan into the 21st century than by forming a coalition government with the LDP at its core," stressed Nonaka, who is in charge of the party's electoral preparations and management.

He added that New Komeito, a party backed by the nation's largest Buddhist lay organization Soka Gakkai, will remain a key partner in the coalition.

The LDP is faced with precariously low public support levels for the party president Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori as the election approaches. Therefore, it is attempting to underscore the potential dangers of a DPJ-led coalition and trying to point to the disparity among the opposition parties on key policy issues.

"I want voters to make a rational judgment on such matters as what kind of policies the opposition parties can be expected to (actually) agree upon and implement" if they form an alliance, Nonaka said. "I hope voters will pick the LDP as the better choice, not necessarily as the best choice."

Nonaka realizes the seriousness of Mori's falling popularity. Nevertheless, he said, the LDP must strive to secure support and understanding from voters seriously concerned about the nation's future.

He explained that the LDP has three main campaign pillars in the election:

* crafting Japan into a nation that promotes peace-oriented policies; * realizing a full-fledged economic recovery; * and ensuring the success of the July summit of the Group of Eight nations in Okinawa.

Nonaka hopes the last of these three goals will greatly contribute to world peace in the new century.

Regarding economic policy, Nonaka said the LDP will place priority on securing a solid recovery before replenishing the nation's finances, which are deeply in debt.

"I think it will take at least two years to realize economic recovery," he said. "When the rate of economic growth stabilizes at about 2 percent, we will (then) have to pursue fiscal reconsolidation through promoting drastic measures such as privatization of government-affiliated corporations."

Nonaka reiterated that Mori will remain in power if the three coalition parties secure a comfortable majority of 254 of the Lower House's 480 seats in the election.

Although a simple majority in the House of Representatives can be clinched with 241 seats, 254 will enable the coalition to chair all 21 standing committees in the chamber.

Nonaka said he will step down from his post if the party fails to secure 229 seats. This target — 10 fewer than the party won in the 1996 Lower House election — was derived after considering that the number of seats in the chamber will be reduced by 20.

Nonaka said the burden of responsibility for an electoral loss lies more with the secretary general than the prime minister, adding that Mori has said he will accept responsibility in the Diet by not being renamed to his post in the event the LDP wins an insufficient number of seats.

He is also continuing efforts to quell the protests voiced regarding Mori's contentious remark that Japan is "a divine nation centering on the Emperor," which opposition parties are trying to focus on during the campaign period.

"The prime minister did offer an apology and addressed the public (on the matter), which can be taken as a virtual retraction of the comment. I want people to accept that," Nonaka said.

"Mori is a seasoned politician with his own color. I believe he will be able to get more support and understanding from the public in time."



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The Japan Times

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