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Politics

Abe's party keeps details fuzzy

LDP policy chief Tomomi Inada unveils her party's pragmatic campaign platform at party headquarters on Tuesday.

TOKYO -- Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has presented voters with a vision of both economic and fiscal health -- one lacking specifics on reform.

     In particular, the LDP avoids spelling out how it would cut spending or fund more-generous social security benefits.

     This expansion of child, health, and nursing care entitlements is supposed to be financed by a second consumption tax increase, originally set for next October, that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to delay until April 2017. But the LDP says it intends to start the expansion next April.

     The party will "work to set priorities within fiscal constraints," LDP policy chief Tomomi Inada told reporters Tuesday. She suggested that child-rearing support would be among the elements to come first.

     Postponing the tax hike will create estimated revenue shortfalls of 450 billion yen ($3.81 billion) in fiscal 2015 and at least 1 trillion yen in fiscal 2016. Inada said the LDP would take steps, such as reviewing spending, to secure stable funding. But the campaign platform does not name any potential revenue sources.

     More obfuscation can be found in the section on reforming agricultural cooperatives. The government and the ruling coalition agreed in June that the current hierarchy, topped by the powerful JA-Zenchu union, should give way to a "new, autonomous system." But in its campaign platform, the LDP tells voters only that it will "deepen and move ahead steadily with discussions in accordance with the agreement."

     When the LDP's General Council finalized the platform Tuesday, some lawmakers warned that seeming too eager for agricultural reform might cost the party the farm vote. Abe, who has tried to roll back some entrenched farm policies, including curbs on rice production, reportedly pushed for a more strongly worded stance. But the end result was a fudge.

     "Writing things in a way that's hard to understand eased resistance in the party," said a senior policy council official.

     A similar lack of progress is apparent on overhauling tax code provisions, including a deduction for spouses, that critics say create a perverse incentive for women to stay at home. Abe himself has ordered a review as part of his emphasis on female empowerment, but has met with reluctance in the LDP's conservative base. In its platform, the LDP commits only to considering such issues "in a comprehensive manner."

     When it comes to monetary stimulus, one of the three "arrows" of Abenomics, the LDP says it will continue to pursue "bold" policymaking at the Bank of Japan, which has worked closely with the Abe government.

     On national security, the LDP appears to be tempering toughness with pragmatism. Back in July, Abe's government approved a broader interpretation of Japan's constitutional powers of self-defense and had been following up on this coup with new legislation. The LDP's latest campaign platform, unlike the one in 2012, leaves out descriptions of the proposed bills. It promises to seek prompt legislation but does not commit to doing so in the next parliamentary session.

(Nikkei)

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