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Friday, July 13, 2007

UPPER HOUSE SHOWDOWN

Novice candidates have issues

Tojo's kin, ex-reporter, tainted-blood activist hit streets


By SETSUKO KAMIYA, AKEMI NAKAMURA and JUN HONGO
Staff writers

Political newcomers, including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo's granddaughter, a former TV Asahi newscaster and a hemophiliac with HIV, hit the Tokyo campaign trail Thursday, vying to represent voters in the House of Councilors.

People cheer outside JR Shinbashi Station in Tokyo as they listen to a Liberal Democratic Party campaign speech
People cheer outside JR Shinbashi Station in Tokyo as they listen to a Liberal Democratic Party campaign speech. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

People said they were interested in hearing candidates for the July 29 Upper House election speak on a range of issues, but the pension record-keeping debacle was high on everyone's list.

Independent candidate Ryuhei Kawada, 31, who was infected with HIV from tainted blood products, addressed voters at 11 a.m. in front of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry building in Chiyoda Ward.

"The bureaucrats who caused the (HIV-tainted blood) scandal landed jobs at the Social Insurance Agency (after retiring from the health ministry). They have caused the current pension problem," Kawada said. "Their irresponsible nature and coverups of their misdeeds continue to bring people pain. I want to change the social system."

Kawada and other hemophiliacs infected by tainted blood won a historic settlement in 1996 in a lawsuit against drug companies and the government.

One 27-year-old woman, who asked not to be named, said she supports Kawada because he has a clear picture of what he wants to do in the Upper House. She said she will not back the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe because it seeks to revise the Constitution and offers little welfare help to ordinary people.

Masami Yamaguchi, 47, from Kita Ward, said he will vote for a candidate and party that promises not to raise the consumption tax.

"I will not vote for the Liberal Democratic Party. Its policies are too vague. Abe does not say anything" clear about the tax, he said. "The economy is improving, but average people don't feel like their lives have become better."

Shortly after noon Thursday, at the first torii leading to Yasukuni Shrine in Chiyoda Ward, independent Yuko Tojo started her campaign with a speech to about 30 supporters.

The 68-year-old granddaughter of Class-A war criminal Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo started her campaign for a Tokyo seat after paying a visit to the contentious shrine dedicated to the nation's war dead, as well as 14 Class-A war criminals, including her grandfather.

Tojo said she was determined to make Japan a country that stands up and makes its own decisions, with prime ministers who openly state when they would visit Yasukuni.

A 70 year-old man from Kanagawa Prefecture, identifying himself only as a distant relative of one of the Class-A war criminals, said he agrees with Tojo and will ask his Tokyo friends and relatives to back her.

Tojo's platform "is definitely not about Japan going back to militarism," the man said, adding he is displeased with lawmakers who pay too much attention to the opinions of other countries.

He said he will vote LDP in the proportional representation segment.

"They've got problems, but they are better than the (Democratic Party of Japan), which is a mix of lawmakers with both left- and right-leaning ideas and doesn't seem to be united," he said.

In front of JR Shinbashi Station, first-time candidate Tamayo Marukawa, running on the LDP ticket, was surrounded by male office workers snapping away at the attractive former TV Asahi newscaster with their cell phone cameras.

The 36-year-old promised to help reform the pension system, at the center of a scandal over 50 million unidentified premium payments.

"My mother and grandmother both depend on pensions," Marukawa said. "We must learn from this issue and create a system that will be secure well into the future."

A 68-year-old retiree who asked not to be named said he had watched Marukawa when she was a newscaster and would probably vote for her.

"It's good that the younger generation is getting involved in politics," he said. "I've always voted for the LDP and plan on sticking with them again, despite the problems with the pension premium payments. The DPJ has relied too much on blaming the LDP, when there isn't much the DPJ has actually achieved as a party."

At 10 a.m., DPJ newcomer Masako Ookawara appeared at the east exit of JR Shinjuku Station.

The DPJ sees this election as a chance for it to get a combined majority with the other opposition parties in the Upper House.

Ookawara, who was a Tokyo Metropolitan Government Assembly member for a decade, said she was determined to turn Japan into a safer place to live. The mother of three said food safety and pension security are priorities.

"We shouldn't forgive (the government) for the fact that so many people are not receiving their pensions properly and that the government used pension money for things that are not necessary," Ookawara said. "We need reform in this country."

A 55 year-old woman from Saitama Prefecture said she really wanted people to think hard and go vote. She said she worried that the LDP may win again, as has been the case in many previous elections.

The woman, who makes 1.03 million yen a year working part time in nursing care, said she was worried the LDP will raise the consumption tax after the election, adding to her financial burden. She also said she had met a lot of elderly people who are struggling on small pensions.

She said she plans to vote DPJ and that others should get out and vote.

"Rich people, including Prime Minister Abe, probably don't understand, but young people who are having a hard time finding stable jobs should really think seriously and vote," she said.



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