DPJ President Okada's Press Conference at FCCJ: His Reaction to Upper House
Chadwick I. Smith (International University of Japan)
Katsuya Okada, President of the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) gave his reaction to the recent Upper House elections at a press conference held at FCCJ (Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan) on Thursday, July 22, 2004. In addition to his reaction to the DPJ's success in the elections, he also covered such issues as North Korea, solutions to the government debt and his party's position on Iraq.
In his introductory remarks Representative Okada reminded correspondents of the DPJ's hop, skip and jump strategy. He reiterated that that the hop was the success in last autumns Lower House election and that the skip was the recent victory in the Upper House election where the DPJ won more seats that the dominant LDP. Finally, he focused on the jump, which would be when the DPJ finally wins a simple majority and gains control of the government after the next general election. Representative Okada also stated that Japan was undergoing a transitional change and his party was making great strides that will lead Japan into a true two party system.
According to Okada, his party has a goal and responsibility to the voters of Japan to take over the government from the LDP. To facilitate this process they are putting together a roadmap, which he stressed is unlike the Middle East roadmap in that it will be a successful instrument for change. Okada's introductory remarks were intentionally kept short to allow enough time for the questions posed by correspondents.
The initial questions focused mainly on the LDP's alliance with the Komeito; correspondents wished to know if Japan was really a three party system and how would this affect the DPJ's strategy for gaining control of the government? Okada dismissed any ideas of a three party system stating that Japan is only moving towards a two party system because the DPJ is the only other party that could realistically achieve a simple majority. He also stated that since the DPJ only needs approximately 60 more seats to achieve its goal in the Lower House, the LDP-Komeito alliance would not hinder its efforts to win the remaining amount. After a question about a possible DPJ-Komeito alliance, Okada stated that the DPJ would not seek any help from the Komeito to gain control before the next election because it is not in the interest of the party and would not be fair to the voters of Japan to achieve its goal by simply rearranging seats.
Questions were also raised as to whether the DPJ can continue to maintain its momentum with the elections being three years away. Okada responded that the date of the next election is unknown and could take place in only a year. Additionally if his party did have to wait three years, this would be ample time needed to strengthen the party to prepare for a responsible change in government. He went on to stress that the goal of the party is to hold on to power for at least two elections or eight years. Thus, there must be a long term strategy to take over because the next election will not be about Prime Minister Koizumi and a fight with the LDP, it will be about fulfilling their responsibility to the voters.
Correspondents were also deeply interested in the North Korean issue. A question was posed asking for the DPJ's policy recommendations for the government if both the six-party talks and a UN resolution fail. Representative Okada's advice was that it was imperative to make sure that they do not fail. He stressed that it is not in the party's interest to hypothesize scenario's, only to use every available means of the government to ensure a successful resolution to the problem. Okada went on to add that the move towards normalization will involve new economic policies that will provide a large amount of funds to the impoverished state. It was then asked if it was acceptable to the DPJ for North Korea have any number of nuclear weapons, be it 30 or 50 and did the DPJ have any worse case scenario. Representative Okada responded that the international community does not know for sure whether North Korea even possesses nuclear weapons and that the only road it has towards survival is to ensure that the six party talks are successful.
Correspondents then focused on Japan's government debt and whether the DPJ had any strategy for reducing this problem. Okada response that the his party's revised budget would decrease government spending in order to lower the debt. He also stated that his party supports a 3% increase in the consumption tax but that it would not be immediate and only be introduced after three years. He also commented that the government must watch the economic situation carefully, and therefore would not give a definitive answer on whether next years decrease in income tax should be eliminated.
Finally, Representative Okada was asked to give specific reasons for the declining popularity of the LDP and to clarify his party's position on the SDF in Iraq. After commenting that the waning popularity of the LDP was an issue only for that party to analyze, he mentioned that the LDP's era was coming to an end. Okada stated that the LDP's long time policy of using government subsidies to gain support of industry was being increasingly scrutinized; in addition, their policy for recruiting talent which is commonly done through a system of inheritance was a hold over from the middle ages. Representative Okada then firmly clarified that his party continues to insist that the SDF should not be in Iraq and that the United States should structure their policies around the needs and desires of the Iraqi government.
In his closing remarks, Representative Okada described Prime Minister Koizumi as jukuren shita seijika, which was translated as a "shrewd" politician and reminded correspondents that there are very few people in economic circles that attribute Japan's recent economic recovery as a success for Prime Minister Koizumi.