Summit News

Japan opposition eyes quick policy action

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s opposition Democratic Party will act quickly on its campaign promises to abolish a gasoline surcharge and scrap highway tolls if it wins an election due within months, a party lawmaker said on Wednesday. Polls show the party has a good shot at wresting control from Prime Minister Taro Aso’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party in an election for the powerful lower house that must be held by October.

But doubts linger over whether the untested, decade-old main opposition party will be able to deliver on policies and maintain voter support for an election for the upper house next year. The party currently controls the chamber together with its smaller allies.

Tsutomu Okubo, an upper house lawmaker who holds the deputy financial services portfolio in the Democrats’ “shadow cabinet,” said no new government could immediately fix Japan’s battered economy, but his party would send an early message to voters. “We need to show that something has changed with the Democrats in power,” Okubo told the Reuters Japan Investment Summit. “We will put priority on policies that people can see.”

Pledges such as eliminating a decades-old surcharge of about 25 yen per liter on gasoline and abolishing some highway tolls could be carried out soon after the party takes power, he said.

Other promises, such as monthly allowances for families with children, would take more time. For example, the new government would only secure a budget for the family allowances from April 2010, and initial aid would be half of a promised 26,000 yen ($276) per child per month.

Analysts are skeptical of the Democrats’ ability to fund their spending plans given Japan’s huge public debt.

Okubo reiterated the party’s commitment to hold off on raising the 5 percent consumption tax for another four years and said the party would instead focus on reviewing government spending and cutting wasteful projects.

But he acknowledged that voters would face a tough choice down the road. “Once we have uncovered all available funds, we will ask the public to choose between the option of ... generous social security with an increase in the consumption tax, or the option of low social security without a tax hike.”

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Reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Hugh Lawson