Press Conference by Taro Aso, Prime Minister
[Opening Remarks by Prime Minister Taro Aso]
Today, I, Taro Aso, decided to dissolve the House of Representatives and seek a popular mandate. This is to clarify responsibility for governing, namely which party shall safeguard Japan and the daily lives of the Japanese people.
1. Reflections and an Apology
Since assuming office, I have placed foremost priority on reviving the economy and defending people's daily lives. During this time, improvident statements I have made caused mistrust among the public and damaged its confidence in politics. I have reflected deeply on this situation.
This is also with regard to the disunity within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). My shortcomings have created mistrust among the public, and as the President of the party, I should like to extend my most sincere apologies.
Reflecting humbly on this situation, I will fulfil my responsibilities placing importance on the thoughts of the people who kindly place their hopes in the LDP. In this general election, I will make three pledges to the public.
2. The Economy as the Highest Priority
When I assumed the position of Prime Minister on 24 September last year, the world was beset by a financial and economic crisis said to occur but once in a century. The highest priority in governing became defending people's daily lives from the worldwide simultaneous recession that originated in the United States.
I have given priority to policy over politics and along with the LDP and the New Komeito Party I have devoted my all to economic policymaking. In an extremely unusual situation, we have drawn up four budgets in a little over six months. Fortunately, we have finally come to see signs of economic recovery as a result of these efforts. Share prices [on the Nikkei stock index], which had dropped to 7,050 yen, have recovered to the 9,600 yen level as of today, and corporate business results are forecasted to improve.
However, the business performance of small and medium enterprises and the employment situation remain weak. We have only reached half-way.
It would simply not do for me, having dedicated myself to this single area of economic countermeasures, to abandon the duties of Prime Minister and party President until solid economic recovery has been achieved. Fully turning around the Japanese economy will take three years. Therefore, the economy must take highest priority. I will without fail revive the Japanese economy. That is my first pledge to you.
3. Realisation of a Society Providing Peace of Mind
My second pledge to you is to bring about a society which provides peace of mind to its members. Various kinds of anxiety surround our daily lives, such as those over employment and child-raising, pensions and medical care, and widening [economic and other] disparities.
The society providing peace of mind which I seek to achieve will give dreams to children, hope to the young and peace of mind to the elderly.
I will accelerate policies to bring about a society without anxieties over employment, old age or child-raising. To do this, I will break from excessive market fundamentalism.
In particular, with regard to employment, we are safeguarding the employment of some 2.4 million workers on monthly average by subsidising companies that do not fire employees. In addition, even should people lose their jobs, we will expand job training for people who do not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits and provide a social safety net for their daily lives as they undergo this training. We will also improve working conditions for people employed part-time.
To address the low birthrate, we have introduced subsidies so that all maternity checkups are now provided without charge. Furthermore, we will work to ensure that all education for children before enrollment in elementary school is provided free of cost.
To achieve these goals, funding will be necessary.
I have said that once the economy recovers, we will appeal to the public to accept a fundamental reform of the tax system, including that of the consumption tax, to cover these costs of social security and of countering the low birth rate. As a prerequisite for making such a request to the public, we will also conduct bold administrative reforms.
We will reduce the number of National Diet members and civil servants, eradicate amakudari/watari [the practice of civil servants obtaining posts in related organisations after retirement from public service/hopping from one such job to another] and eliminate government waste. A tax increase is unpleasant for everyone. However, I believe that we can no longer pass on our generation's borrowing to our children and grandchildren. This is something that must be said in order to fulfil the responsibility to govern, even though it will become a liability for us during the election. To do so is to govern with responsibility, in my view.
5. Issues That Cannot Be Entrusted to the Democratic Party of Japan
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has been speaking of a transfer of power. However, whether it be economic countermeasures or funding for public welfare or national security, the DPJ merely opposes the proposals of the LDP and the New Komeito without making clear its own concrete policy proposals.
The DPJ has even opposed budgets of extreme urgency, including cash-flow assistance to small factories and daily life assistance for people who have lost their jobs, and needlessly prolonged Diet deliberations. The DPJ even opposed the pension reform law, which relieves some of the burden of the pension premium payments by the younger generation.
Five trillion yen towards allowances for child-raising, two trillion yen to eliminate highway tolls-these are the DPJ's massive pork-barrel policies which have no funding to back them. They make the fantastic claim that tens of trillions of yen can be secured just by restructuring the budget. They even refused to discuss the bill on inspections of North Korean cargo in line with United Nations Security Council resolution , and thereby forced it to be scrapped. I should think that the entity most delighted at this result is none other than North Korea.
We must not entrust the Japanese economy to the holders of hollow ideas with no basis in actual funding resources. Nor can we consign national security to parties which lack coherent national security policies. It is only the LDP, in which I firmly believe, that is capable of taking responsibility for Japan's future.
This general election is an important opportunity to have the public decide which party is most suited to take the reins of government.
In order to defend people's daily lives, I pledge to bring about economic revival and a society which provides peace of mind to its members. The upcoming general election is an election upon which the creation of a society that provides peace of mind hinges. The people will be asked to judge which party has the capacity to take responsibility. If the pledges I made go unfulfilled, I shall take responsibility. That is my third pledge to you.
I repeat, we must carry out the responsibilities of governing. We must provide dreams to children, hope to the young and peace of mind to the elderly. Towards that end, I declare to all of you that I will fight to the very end, standing at the helm of the LDP in which I firmly believe.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: I would like to inquire about two points. First, since becoming Prime Minister, you have had several opportunities to dissolve the House of Representatives until this point, and I would like to know why you dissolved the House today, at this juncture.
Also, many seem to believe that holding a general election at this timing would be challenging for the LDP. As a second question, what points do you intend to emphasise the most during this election, and what strategy do you intend to pursue during the campaign?
PRIME MINISTER TARO ASO: As for the timing of the dissolution, when I took office as Prime Minister there was only a year left of the current tenure of the members of the Lower House. Since taking office, the question has been when I should dissolve the House and seek a new mandate. At the same time, it has been necessary to give top priority to measures to revive business activity and to implement economic countermeasures, in order to restore our nation that had been struck by the economic and financial crisis. I have been constantly mulling over these two points since assuming office.
Within this context, we have been able to enact the budget proposals and related bills that serve as the backing for four sets of economic countermeasures as well as other important bills. As a result, the economy has bottomed and we have begun to see glimmers of light in share prices, business performance, and so on.
There have been various criticisms along the way, but I feel that giving priority to policy over politics was indeed the correct choice to make. For that reason, I have decided to dissolve the House of Representatives in order to have the public evaluate our accomplishments thus far and the results of the economic countermeasures, and also to seek the public's opinion on whether we can be entrusted with economic management to consolidate the basic direction of the economic recovery into a more solid, steady trend.
You mentioned the election, and I am indeed expecting a challenging campaign. However, I think that in order to win, the key will certainly be to appeal to individual voters regarding policies in a totally simple and honest manner.
For the Japanese people, the question is which party can shoulder responsibility for their daily lives. That is what I should like them to decide. I ask them to consider the differences between the policies of the LDP and those of other parties. We have set forth a future vision for Japan as well as concrete policies and sources of funding. Specifically, I believe that we cannot entrust the economy as the foremost priority, the creation of a society providing peace of mind to its members, or national security to any other political party. We intend to emerge victorious in this election campaign in the belief that the LDP is the party that can shoulder responsibility for Japan and its policies.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, you earlier offered your sincere apologies as party President for the disunity within the LDP. However, it seems that within the LDP there are some strongly-rooted opinions that the election cannot be won with you at the helm. Against this backdrop, how do you intend to unify the party to take on the election?
Also as a related point, within the LDP there are moves by some candidates to campaign with their own "manifestos", and not that of the party. How do you intend to respond to such moves?
PRIME MINISTER TARO ASO: Today we held a discussion meeting of all LDP members in both Houses of the Diet. I humbly accept the fact that there were some criticisms of me among the various comments made.
However, now is indeed the time to unite as a party and appeal to the Japanese people. The majority of comments indicated that it is now the time for us to draw upon the latent power and vitality of the LDP, and I feel that the solidarity of the party was reaffirmed.
Henceforth, I will amend the aspects of myself that must be amended, as will the LDP itself. We then intend to push forward in implementing policies for the public based on our determination to be reborn as an open party that is truly a party of the people.
Various opinions invariably emerge. This is a good thing, in my view. However, once a decision is taken, we will campaign in solidarity, in keeping with the LDP's historical legacy and also because without total solidarity it will be impossible for us to emerge victorious. I am determined to lead the party to victory in this campaign.
You also asked about "manifestos". Individual candidates can express their views through official election bulletins and other means. However, at a time when the party must mount a united campaign, I believe it is impossible for candidates to win this election with their individual "manifestos".
The Public Office Election Law stipulates that there is to be only one formal election platform, or so-called "manifesto", that can be distributed by each party during an election campaign. My understanding is that anything that differs from the formal election platform decided by the party cannot be called the party's platform or "manifesto".
QUESTION: I would like to ask you about national security policies. But before that, if you have an idea of what would constitute the line separating victory from defeat in this Lower House election, I would like you to let us know.
With regard to national security policy, you earlier stated your doubts about the DPJ's policies in this area. The DPJ has recently come forth with a realistic line that, should it come into power, it would continue the replenishment operations in the Indian Ocean, and it also appears to be leaning towards keeping the Japan-US alliance as the cornerstone [of Japan's diplomacy]. In this way there do not seem to be major differences between the policies of the DPJ and the LDP. What are your thoughts on this?
PRIME MINISTER TARO ASO: First of all, with regard to safeguarding Japan, the DPJ did nothing more than oppose the dispatch of Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) vessels to conduct counter-terrorism measures and to combat piracy. I do not remember them submitting any counterproposals.
The bill on inspections of North Korean cargo had to be scrapped because of their refusal to deliberate on it. In my opinion, the DPJ's policies are extremely irresponsible with regard to this field of national security and it is only natural for people to feel anxious over them.
If you are going to claim that they will change their ways after taking the helm, why don't they do so now? Why are they unable to do so now? Does this not amount to an admission on their part that they were opposing bills just for the sake of doing so? What you have just mentioned is something that I have not heard as an official announcement by the DPJ, so I have no way of knowing if it is accurate. However, if I were to respond on the assumption that it is accurate, that the DPJ has indeed said such things, then that would be my answer.
As for your second question with regard to the line separating victory and defeat, obviously our aim is to have every official LDP candidate be voted into office. However, I would have to question the wisdom of making any statement today about the bar defining victory at this stage, having just today dissolved the Lower House for a general election and with everyone now full of determination towards this election campaign. I believe I should refrain from talking about this line.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Aso, you said that the LDP must approach the election in unity. However, there is ongoing turmoil within the party, with a Diet member having announced his departure from the party after the Lower House was dissolved. Do you really believe that it is possible to take on this election with a united front?
PRIME MINISTER TARO ASO: You yourselves [journalists] saw our atmosphere of LDP unity at the discussion meeting of all LDP Diet members, which we also opened to the media. I myself believe that by hearing many views we succeeded in reaffirming the solidarity of the party.
From here, the LDP needs to amend what needs to be amended, and in saying that, I am including improvements I will make about myself. We must campaign with confidence in both the policies that we have formulated and the future Japan which we seek.
You just mentioned a member who has left the LDP. I am confident that we can campaign from here on in party unity, having confirmed our state of unity once again at today's discussion meeting of all party Diet members, which we held in lieu of a joint plenary meeting of party members of both Houses.
QUESTION: Just now, in reference to the bar for defining victory, you said that you are aiming to have all LDP-backed candidates elected to office. Senior LDP officials have already stated that the minimum goal is to win a majority of seats between the LDP and New Komeito. My first question is what you think about your responsibility as party President should the LDP-New Komeito coalition fail to attain a majority.
My other question is, depending on the number of seats the LDP wins in the election, would you contemplate in the interest of political stability an alliance with parties other than the LDP and Komeito but whose political ideals are compatible with the LDP's?
PRIME MINISTER TARO ASO: We are in the business of politics. Political ideals come first. Philosophy and policies are the crucial points. We do not aim merely to secure a particular number of seats [for the ruling party or coalition]. The political ideals of this government are clear, since the LDP and the New Komeito have governed as a coalition by exchanging views so as suitably to coordinate views that are well-founded.
Behind me is the national flag. As one example, the Act on the National Flag and National Anthem passed the Diet through the LDP and the New Komeito acting in coalition. This is one of our various accomplishments.
As for the bar defining victory, as I mentioned earlier, I don't consider it appropriate to give a casual answer about a hypothetical situation. I have no idea who might have spoken unwisely about what the line defining success might be, but I consider it ill-advised to talk about that carelessly at this stage.
QUESTION: This is something that has already been asked, but I have doubts about the lack of clarity on who would take responsibility should the ruling coalition fail to maintain a majority of seats. That is the first point I'd like to ask. And, with regard to the increase in the consumption tax that you mentioned in your opening statement, can we assume that as part of the LDP's manifesto you will be asking the public to shoulder a consumption tax increase, provided that economic recovery will have been achieved by 2011? I would like you to confirm this point.
PRIME MINISTER TARO ASO: Are you asserting I should make a casual response to a question premised on election defeat? The election campaign is to be waged from now on. It is impossible to emerge victorious if we do not approach it with the right mindset. In all the elections I have experienced, everyone devotes the entirety of their strength to winning. That is how we approach an election. That is the mindset I have had in every election.
Therefore, here at this stage at which we have just dissolved the Lower House and neither the public announcement nor public notification of the election has been made, it is not suitable for me to say what we might or might not do.