Japan's Democratic Party pledges education focus

Mr Mineyuki Fukuda says he will leave the LDP. Japan's former foreign minister Seiji Maehara (above) was elected leader of Japan's main opposition party, the Democratic Party, on Sept 1.
Mr Mineyuki Fukuda says he will leave the LDP. Japan's former foreign minister Seiji Maehara (above) was elected leader of Japan's main opposition party, the Democratic Party, on Sept 1.PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Mineyuki Fukuda (Above) says he will leave the LDP. Japan's former foreign minister Seiji Maehara was elected leader of Japan's main opposition party, the Democratic Party, on Sept 1.
Mr Mineyuki Fukuda (Above) says he will leave the LDP. Japan's former foreign minister Seiji Maehara was elected leader of Japan's main opposition party, the Democratic Party, on Sept 1.PHOTO: REUTERS

Opposition party set to campaign on issue in expected snap election

TOKYO • Japan's opposition Democratic Party will pledge in the next House of Representatives election that increased revenue from a planned consumption tax rate hike be used to improve the nation's education system, according to a draft of the party's campaign pledge.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to formally announce his plan to call a snap election for Oct 22 at a news conference today, ruling party sources said. Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has a two-thirds majority in the Lower House and the election, coming 14 months ahead of schedule, is aimed at taking advantage of a rebound in his damaged approval ratings and nip in the bud a challenge from a new opposition party.

A draft of the Democratic Party's campaign pledge seen by The Japan News showed that the party will promise to secure financial resources to provide free pre-school education, as well as measures to reduce university tuition fees or introduce fee exemptions. In the draft, the opposition party holds up the idea of free education through a redistribution of income as a counter-theme to Mr Abe's economic growth-oriented Abenomics.

The party believes the financial resources will mainly be secured via the increased revenue from the consumption tax rate hike which is scheduled for October 2019. Mr Abe, however, is also expected to put forward similar pledges and the Democratic Party will have to convince voters by differentiating its pledges from those of the LDP.

The Democratic Party's party policy study group presented the draft at a meeting of its lawmakers on Friday.

The party leadership is expected to come up with a broad agreement from its lawmakers on the campaign pledges today, The Japan News said.

Along with education and childcare pledges, LDP is expected to focus on the North Korean threat and its divisive plan to revise Japan's pacifist Constitution to make clear the legitimacy of the nation's armed forces during the campaign.

The Democratic Party, in its draft campaign pledge, declared that Japan's security-related laws that allow for the limited exercise of collective defence rights are "a violation of the Constitution" and called for their abolition. The draft also outlines the party's opposition to Mr Abe's proposal to add language recognising Japan's Self-Defence Forces to the Constitution.

Mr Abe's approval ratings, which were under 30 per cent two months ago, have climbed to 50 per cent in some polls, in a boost helped partly by public jitters over North Korea. He has also reshuffled his Cabinet by dropping gaffe-prone ministers, and vowed to revise bureaucratic procedures after he was embroiled in two cronyism scandals.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, is in disarray after a contentious internal leadership election this month, and is facing an exodus of lawmakers.

But in a blow to Mr Abe, a senior vice-minister of his Cabinet Office, Mr Mineyuki Fukuda, said yesterday he would leave the ruling bloc to join a new party being organised by those close to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, The Mainichi reported. The party, to be launched soon, is to be named Kibo, a Japanese word that means "hope". It has expressed its intention to field candidates at the Lower House election, a move that could further splinter the scrambled opposition.

Separately, a Kyodo news agency survey yesterday showed that almost two-thirds of Japanese voters are opposed to Mr Abe calling a snap election. According to the survey, 27 per cent of the respondents plan to vote for the LDP in proportional representation districts in the expected Lower House election, versus 8 per cent who favour the Democratic Party. The poll also showed that 6.2 per cent will vote for the new party aligned with Ms Koike, Reuters reported.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2017, with the headline 'Japan's Democratic Party pledges education focus'. Print Edition | Subscribe