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Sunday, Sept. 10, 2006
LDP candidates launch race for presidency in Akihabara
By MASAMI ITO
Thousands of people in Tokyo's Akihabara district Saturday heard the opening campaign speeches of the three candidates running in the Sept. 20 Liberal Democratic Party presidential race, which will determine the next prime minister.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and Foreign Minister Taro Aso were making their first appearance before the public after the campaign officially kicked off Friday.
Despite the uncomfortably humid weather, people from the elderly to the young packed the square outside JR Akihabara Station. The LDP claimed more than 10,000 people were there, but this number could not be verified.
"I didn't know that this event was happening today," said Chihiro Ota. "But I am glad I happened upon it. Although I have no direct vote, I am very interested in who will become the next prime minister."
The LDP presidential election is an internal affair and only party members have the right to vote. But because the LDP leader will take the post of prime minister due to the party's dominance in the Diet, the race is drawing public interest.
Ota, a 25-year old computer programmer, voiced his support for the most popular candidate -- Abe.
"I like Abe because he speaks his mind," Ota said. "And especially since he does not give in to pressure from other countries."
In his speech, Abe played up his involvement in the North Korean abduction issue. He spoke of how he argued for the decision not to return the five abductees to North Korea after their return in 2002. "I will not let any Japanese person be mistreated," he said.
As usual, Abe dwelt primarily on his pledge to provide "a second chance" to people who have failed in their companies and businesses.
"There are times when things don't work out right, no matter how much effort you make," he said. "But (we) must not make a country that pins losers as losers and winners as winners. (I) want to create a country that offers many chances" for success.
Abe got a round of applause from the crowd when he firmly stated that the social security system must be fundamentally reformed.
"I came from Setagaya Ward to hear Abe speak," an 81-year-old woman said with enthusiasm. "It is very rare for regular people like me to be able to hear him speak in person. . . . I believe he is most suitable for the position (as prime minister) as a person as well as for his policies."
The woman, who withheld her name, said she just wants to live comfortably for the rest of her life "and I am hopeful that the LDP as a party and Abe will ensure that I can."
Tanigaki stressed the need for a trusting relationship between the government and the general public.
"I think that the most important thing for the public is building that trust between the government and you," Tanigaki said. "And there is no easy way to do that. I can only face the public directly and promise without wavering that I will not deceive you."
One of Tanigaki's pledges is to raise the consumption tax to as high as 10 percent as a measure for financial reconstruction.
"Let's not leave issues like the social security system and financial reconstruction to our children and grandchildren to take up the slack, and face these issues ourselves," Tanigaki said.
In an unusual move, Aso focused his speech mainly on Japanese subculture, for which Akihabara is a haven. The audience likely included various types of "otaku," including the computer programmer Ota, a self-admitted geek.
Aso referred to the famous soccer comic book "Captain Tsubasa," saying that Zinedine Zidane read it and became a soccer player.