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Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008
Five start campaigns for LDP presidency
By MASAMI ITO and KAZUAKI NAGATA
The Liberal Democratic Party officially kicked off its presidential election campaign Wednesday with five candidates angling to succeed Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who announced his resignation last week.
Whoever wins the Sept. 22 LDP poll will face increasing pressure, however, to dissolve the Diet and call a general election, possibly in November.
The five candidates — LDP Secretary General Taro Aso, economy and fiscal policy minister Kaoru Yosano, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, another ex-defense minister, Yuriko Koike, and former LDP policy chief Nobuteru Ishihara — held a joint news conference Wednesday afternoon to announce their platforms.
The front-runner is considered to be Aso, 67, who has been the foreign, economy and internal affairs ministers as well as LDP policy chief and secretary general.
"Japanese politics are facing an unprecedented crisis," Aso said. "I decided to run because I have the resolution and dedication, based on my accomplishments, to confront these various problems Japan is currently dealing with."
Campaigning is expected to focus on the candidates' economic policies amid the threat of recession, the need to rein in the ballooning state deficit and demographic changes that have put social security costs and growth under pressure.
Aso, an advocate of increasing public spending to stimulate the economy, rejected the idea of an early hike in the 5 percent consumption tax to finance rising social security costs.
"Considering the current situation of the economy, how could we do that now?" Aso asked. "I think one way is to use surplus funds like the special account of about ¥40 trillion before raising the consumption tax."
While most of the other candidates echoed Aso in dismissing a consumption tax hike, Yosano, an outspoken advocate of tax hikes, said he thinks it's necessary.
"I think the consumption tax is the only way to secure a stable source of finances," he said. But he also said it will be difficult to prepare for one this year or during the next regular Diet session, which starts in January.
The key issue for the next LDP president, who is certain to become prime minister because of the LDP's Lower House majority, is when to dissolve the Lower House and call an election. Party executives have said it would be best to dissolve the chamber in early October and hold the election in November while the new prime minister is fresh and the party has momentum.
Because the Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties control the Upper House, the LDP-New Komeito ruling coalition has had trouble passing legislation since July 2007.
The DPJ is planning a huge push to win the next election and seize control of the government. If the LDP retains its Lower House majority, the new prime minister can stay in place. But the coalition could lose power if the DPJ and other opposition parties outnumber its ranks.
"I think the LDP is facing a fateful crisis," Yosano said. "With the determination to establish responsible politics, I decided to run in this race."
Ishiba meanwhile stressed his expertise in security and defense, and strongly emphasized the need to have the Maritime Self-Defense Force continue refueling multinational naval ships in the Indian Ocean to support U.S.-led counterterrorism activities.
The international society "together is fighting for human rights, democracy and freedom," Ishiba said. "How can Japan think of running away from that?"
Koike, a former TV anchorwoman-turned-politician who became the first female presidential candidate in LDP history, criticized the DPJ for letting its president, Ichiro Ozawa, be reinstalled to a third term unopposed.
"The DPJ is a party that has prioritized playing politics and making that its only goal," Koike said. "Which party can take responsibility and lead the nation — that will be put to the test in the next general election."
Ishihara, 51, stressed that the LDP, as a responsible ruling party, should provide pledges with proof that it can take responsibility for people's lives.
"The most important point for the next general election is to show that Japan's future is secure and safe for people to live," said Ishihara, the oldest son of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.
Ishihara said the LDP must detail how fiscal burdens and benefits will be balanced in its social security policy package, including health care, nursing care and pensions.
Fukuda announced his resignation Sept. 1.
Candidates were required to collect 20 recommendations to run in the presidential race, but some of them, including Senior Vice Foreign Minister Ichita Yamamoto and former science and technology minister Yasufumi Tanahashi, had to quit because they couldn't get enough supporters.
The vote will take place Sept. 22, with 387 votes for each of the LDP Diet members and 141 votes distributed to the prefectural chapters.