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Leaders of Japan's main political parties debate Oct. 8 in Tokyo.
Politics

Abe cites coalition majority as standard to stay PM

Rival Koike differs on consumption tax, constitution at Japan election debate

| Japan

TOKYO -- Shinzo Abe intends to remain prime minister as long as his Liberal Democratic Party and partner Komeito retain the majority in the Oct. 22 lower house election, the Japanese leader said in a debate here Sunday, providing leeway for declaring victory even if the coalition loses dozens of seats.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who heads the new national party Kibo no To, or Party of Hope, reiterated her aim of changing the political landscape dominated by Abe, while not ruling out teaming with the LDP after the election.

Japan's next prime minister

Leaders of the country's eight major political parties debated at the Japan National Press Club on a range of issues including economic policy and amending the constitution.

"If we win a majority, I will be nominated as the prime minister as a matter of course," Abe said.

Left to right: Tadatomo Yoshida (Social Democratic Party), Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui (Japan Innovation Party), Natsuo Yamaguchi (Komeito), Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Liberal Democratic Party), Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike (Party of Hope), Kazuo Shii (Japanese Communist Party), Yukio Edano (Constitutional Democratic Party) and Masashi Nakano (Party for Japanese Kokoro).

The LDP and Komeito combined for a two-thirds majority with more than 320 seats before Abe dissolved the lower house. The coalition needs 233 seats for the simple majority that Abe cited as the condition for him to stay on as prime minister.

Meanwhile, Koike again refrained from stating whom her Party of Hope would nominate as prime minister. The charismatic Koike will remain Tokyo governor, leaving the party struggling to select a suitable candidate.

"We may include independent candidates" with no political affiliation, she said. "We will continue the process with election results in mind."

But the governor left open the possibility of teaming with the LDP after the election. "We will battle thoroughly and then make a judgment afterward," she said.

Taxes and spending

The debate on economics produced few sparks. The LDP and Komeito reiterated their stance of raising Japan's consumption tax to 10% from 8% in October 2019 as planned, while others opposed it.

Abe, underscoring the importance of fiscal stability to support the nation's social security system, called a consumption tax hike the most appropriate means to secure that stability.

The prime minister proposes spending more of this increase in tax revenue to support child care and education, shifting away from an earlier plan to use the majority of the revenue increase to repay debt. Responding to a question, Abe said that the extra education spending is contingent on the tax hike.

With a change in the spending plan, Abe conceded that Japan "cannot" achieve a primary surplus in fiscal 2020, as targeted before. He refrained from presenting a new target at this point, promising to do so later.

Koike urges holding off on the tax hike until the Japanese public feels the uptick in the economy. She called for a new way of thinking on social security and the country's fiscal health, proposing the distribution of money to provide a minimum basic income for all. Such a system would require trillions of yen.

"There remains some experimental aspects but we should consider this for the future," she said, adding that her party would work to establish a dedicated council on the matter.

On amendment of the constitution, Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi kept his remarks brief, saying that a proposal and referendum should be welcomed based on a thorough understanding by citizens.

Koike expressed her "great skepticism" regarding the prime minister's proposal to leave the first two paragraphs of Japan's pacifist Article 9 unchanged while adding a clause about the role of the Self-Defense Forces.

On nuclear energy, the Party of Hope calls for the elimination of this power source in Japan, as do other opposition parties such as the Japanese Communist Party. But Koike said Japan should retain the technology to offer services in decommissioning reactors to other parts of the world.

(Nikkei)

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