LDP presidential candidates should debate detailed plans to steer nation

It is important that it not be decided on who can be “the face” of the elections, but by thoroughly examining the candidates’ policies and qualities. As a responsible ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party must engage in substantial policy discussions.

Taro Kono, minister in charge of administrative and regulatory reform, has announced his candidacy in the party’s presidential election. The race is expected to revolve around three candidates: Kono, former LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, and former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi.

At a press conference, Kono said, “I want to move Japan forward.”

He led the rollout of vaccinations against the novel coronavirus, and recent opinion surveys rank him as the politician seen as most suitable to be the next prime minister. His desire to implement reforms and his ability to communicate through social media have probably been looked on favorably.

On the other hand, Kono has stuck to a policy of making Japan nuclear-free and is regarded as a maverick in the party. Some people have pointed out the danger of his outspoken comments.

At a separate press conference, Takaichi stressed that she will “protect the sovereignty and honor of the nation.” With support from former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, she is promising to stay the conservative course.

In contrast to last year’s LDP presidential election, all factions with the exception of Kishida’s remain ambivalent. They are probably assessing how much support exists for each candidate, including among rank-and-file party members. It seems that the factions are no longer able to tighten their grip on members.

A House of Representatives election will be held by November, and a House of Councillors election is coming next year. Younger party members who are on shaky ground when it comes to their own election tend to place their hopes on a leader who is popular with the public, wishing to ride their coattails to reelection.

However, relying only on temporary popularity may destabilize the government and lead to frequent changes in the prime minister. Through vigorous policy debates, friendly competition between the next leaders can lead to the establishment of a stable government base.

On the issue of novel coronavirus measures, Kono expressed his intention to present a program for resuming economic activities after the vaccinations.

Kishida called for the establishment of a “health crisis control agency” to carry out a centralized response to infectious diseases, while Takaichi said she will look into legislation that would enable a lockdown.

Based on the experience of the past year and a half since the start of the pandemic, it is important for the candidates to analyze the factors that delayed necessary measures such as the expansion of the medical system, and to present clear and specific measures for improvement.

Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no regional rallies by the candidates, but the LDP said it will hold online policy debates.

How can economic revival be realized and a sustainable social safety net be built amid a rapidly declining population? How can peace and prosperity be secured during a rapidly changing international situation? It is time to deepen comprehensive discussions on how the nation should be.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 11, 2021.