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Saturday, Sept. 13, 2008
LDP five's first public 'debate' subdued affair
By MASAMI ITO
The battle for the Liberal Democratic Party presidency continued Friday, but the only public debate to date ended on a subdued tone as the five candidates avoided aiming direct criticism at each other.
What was supposed to be an open debate among the candidates at the Japan National Press Club in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, instead turned out to be a speech-making and question-and-answer session by the five: LDP Secretary General Taro Aso, economy and fiscal policy minister Kaoru Yosano, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, former anchorwoman and ex-Defense Minister Yuriko Koike, and former LDP policy chief Nobuteru Ishihara.
Aso, the front-runner, drew laughs by opening his speech with a rejection of three assumptions he is being labeled with: that he will increase pork-barrel spending, make appalling verbal gaffes, and strain diplomatic ties with China and South Korea.
Aso is known for making contentious statements. Most recently, he angered the Democratic Party of Japan, the leading opposition party, by comparing it to the Nazis.
"As leader of the country, I would not be able to make comments carelessly," Aso said, adding he didn't believe he slipped up as foreign minister.
"I think I've always stopped myself just before the line."
Ishiba stressed the importance of having a permanent law to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces overseas for multinational operations. Japan must enact special laws every time it wants to send forces abroad, a process that limits its response time considerably.
"We have a special law for the war on terror and we have taken measures against Iraq through a special bill as well," Ishiba said. "Every year, state politics waver because we must discuss (whether to extend the special dispatch law). I think this needs to be not a special law, but a permanent one."
Yosano, an advocate of raising taxes, is the only candidate who has clearly said the 5 percent consumption tax will probably have to be hiked to 10 percent by 2015.
Some candidates, including Aso, have suggested the government raid the multitude of "special account budgets" it has surplus funds in before resorting to a tax hike. On Wednesday, Aso mentioned one as having ¥40 trillion in money waiting to be spent. But he, like other candidates, isn't being specific about the names of these accounts.
Yosano, however, said the party has to be realistic about Japan's dire fiscal situation.