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2011年1月16日 (日)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 14
EDITORIAL: DPJ's manifesto review

The ruling Democratic Party of Japan decided in a party convention Thursday to revise by summer its manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election.

As for the draft budget for next fiscal year, which is based on the manifesto, DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada recently indicated the spending plan should also be subject to change.

"We are not opposed to a revision (to the draft budget)," Okada said. "The plan drawn up by the government is not final. There should be the possibility for the plan to be changed through debate."

We welcome the fact that the government and the DPJ have shown a willingness to change problematic elements in the party's campaign platform and the government's spending blueprint.

But summer may be too late for the proposed revision to the manifesto.

It is, of course, necessary for the party to hold sufficient debate on the matter. But it doesn't make sense that the draft budget for the new fiscal year, to be deliberated by the Diet during the upcoming regular session, will not reflect any of the changes in the party's manifesto that might be made through the review.

If the outlooks of specific programs and projects remain murky, the opposition parties could create problems for the ruling party in enacting the budget.

A major change to a budget bill during a Diet session is extremely rare. There have been a few cases of minor revisions in the past, but no large-scale amendment to a budget bill, such as changing the budget framework, has ever happened.

However, the ruling camp now needs to demonstrate its commitment to adjusting its policy agenda to the realities by showing a willingness to make such a radical change to its spending plan.

Amending the budget bill is necessary, but not as a gambit to ensure its passage in the Diet. It is necessary because it is clear that the DPJ's election manifesto, which has served as a basis for budget formulation since the previous administration of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, needs to be reformed considerably.

For example, the abolition of expressway tolls, one of the key DPJ election promises, is no longer a reasonable policy goal given the troubles raised by the initiative, such as the negative effects on public transportation services, traffic congestion on expressways and the financing problem.

There is no convincing case for providing funding for a continuation of the "experimental" scrapping of tolls for some expressways under the budget for the fiscal year starting in April.

The newly introduced program to prop up the income of farmers with direct cash payments has hampered consolidation of fragmented farmland because all farmers, including small-scale ones, selling rice and other staples are eligible. It has become clear that the program represents an impediment to efforts to improve efficiency in Japanese agriculture. Does the ruling camp intend to keep the program alive without tackling this problem?

Regarding the child allowance program, the government has decided to keep providing 13,000 yen ($157) a month per child--half of the amount the DPJ promised--to households with young children. Does the administration plan to eventually increase the allowance to the promised amount?

Other issues related to the child-allowance initiative need to be addressed, such as whether support should be provided in the form of goods and whether an income cap on eligibility should be introduced.

If the futures of these policy measures remain uncertain, the people cannot develop their life plans.

The government should steer its policy agenda in an appropriate direction as soon as possible to prevent any disruption in the people's lives and economic activities.

That requires the ruling bloc to reconsider its main policy promises ahead of schedule and amend the draft budget flexibly through Diet debate.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan should give the public a detailed explanation about the reasons for the changes and the new directions of the policies.

The opposition parties, for their part, should not refuse debate on such changes without good reason and make their judgments from the viewpoint of public interest.


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