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Interview with LDP chief on Amari’s resignation, politics, economy, constitution, election

(Sankei: February 1, 2016 – p. 5)


 Interview with LDP Secretary General Sadakazu Tanigaki; compiled by Mayumi Toyoda, Shigeyuki Mizuuchi


 When I heard that Economic Revitalization Minister Akira Amari had resigned, I called up Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and told him: “That must have been a painful decision for you.” Mr. Amari was the driving force behind Abenomics and he made great achievements in the TPP negotiations. The TPP agreement will be signed on Feb. 4. There is no time to lose in pushing the TPP forward while obtaining the people’s understanding.


 Since what happened could not be helped, as the secretary general, I would like to consolidate the ruling parties to make sure that there will be no delay in our work. The voting age will be lowered to 18 this year. We must also make sure that “politics and money” issues will not instill distrust of politics in the younger generation.


 This year, our top priority is to win the House of Councillors election for the sake of political stability.


 We have been talking about a political system that enables change of administration for more than 25 years and one of the results was the three years and three months of Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration under Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan, and Yoshihiko Noda.


 A former DPJ Diet member (former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koji Matsui) once said that “everything the three prime ministers did was wrong.” I agree with him completely. The people have absolutely no idea what the DPJ is trying to do. The opposition is still seriously divided even today under the House of Representatives election system based on single-seat districts. It will be difficult for them to make their presence felt for some time to come. Therefore, we will have to be the ones to establish a stable political system.


 A virtuous economic cycle is taking shape, but there are still factors of uncertainty, such as fluctuations in stock prices. With the U.S., the leading economic power, moving toward monetary tightening, people are beginning to worry if the money circulating in the world is safe. At times like this, sudden withdrawal of money from the economically weak countries happens about once in a decade or so. Such is the situation right now. China’s economic system is also an issue. While there is no problem with Japan’s real economy, we need to be careful.


 While employment is expanding in Japan, this has yet to trigger expansion of consumption. People are anxious about the future, so this needs to be addressed. The idea of “realizing a society of dynamic engagement of all citizens” is meant to mitigate concerns in real life and convey the message that “Japan is doing fine.” Political stability is also important in order to be able to implement such policies.


 Some are mulling joining hands with the Initiatives from Osaka (Osaka Ishin no Kai)

 to secure a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet required for submitting motions for constitutional amendment. This will effectively make it impossible for the LDP candidates in Osaka to fight in the election. As the secretary general, I see flirting with Osaka Ishin to be a problem for the election campaign.


 The LDP has advocated promulgating a constitution on its own initiative since its founding. However, in reality, the Japanese people have no experience in drafting a constitution. The Japanese constitution, as it is, is very rigid. For example, even if all the requirements for submitting revisions are met and a referendum is held, there is no next step if they are rejected by the people. This will result in confusion. Therefore, the realistic thing to do is to start with provisions that everyone believes to be defective.


 To avoid a situation like that, constitutional revision should actually involve the number one opposition party. However, DPJ leader Katsuya Okada says his party will not talk with a prime minister who has no understanding of constitutionalism. Mr. Okada is very stubborn. That is why people began talking about working with Osaka Ishin to secure a two-thirds majority. I think this is also aimed at putting pressure on Mr. Okada.


 An experts’ panel was asked to deal with Lower House election reform because the political parties could not agree. Basically, we need to respect their recommendations. We must stop holding elections that may be pronounced by the courts to be “unconstitutional” or “invalid.” We would like to deliberate on reforms speedily and aim at submitting legal revisions to the current Diet session as much as possible.


 The LDP has been calling for the reduction of Lower House seats. The problem is Japan is in a process of population decline. Even if we tweak the system all the time, disparity in the value of one vote will still occur. If we reduce the number of seats too much, there will be extreme disparity and the system will become inflexible. What do we do about these issues?


 There has been talk about holding simultaneous Upper and Lower House elections recently and the standard answer is: “This is the Prime Minister’s prerogative.” However, barely a year has passed since the last Lower House election. This is a situation that is very different from if I am asked, “How about dissolving the Diet when there is only one year left in the [Lower House members’] term of office?” While I will tell you we need to be prepared for an election at all times, I don’t think this is the right time for a ruling party secretary general to be talking about Diet dissolution.

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