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Editorial: LDP should join more leaders' debates during election campaign period

Evaluation of the 3 1/2-year rule of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, constitutional revision and national security are among the key points of contention in ongoing campaigning for the July 10 House of Councillors election.

How did the public evaluate the first campaign speeches by the leaders of political parties? Did the speeches help voters decide which candidate and party they will vote for in the upcoming poll?

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized the fruits of Abenomics, the economic policy mix promoted by his government, saying, "Abenomics is halfway through. We'll boldly press forward with the policy." He then criticized election cooperation between the opposition Democratic Party (DP) and Japanese Communist Party (JCP) as "irresponsible."

DP leader Katsuya Okada criticized the Abe government, saying, "We'll stop the recklessness of Abe politics and reverse political trends."

In campaign speeches, party leaders and candidates typically send one-way messages to voters. But such speeches don't help sufficiently deepen debate on policy issues.

In the past, the prime minister made scant mention of his plans to enact the controversial Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets and the security-related legislation during election campaigning. But once the ruling coalition won the election, the government pushed forward enactment of related bills as if to say all its policy measures had been endorsed by voters.

During the ongoing upper house race, it is unlikely the prime minister will talk much about constitutional revision in his campaign speeches. However, depending on the outcome, this election could lead to constitutional amendment. Close attention should be paid to issues that political parties and candidates are unwilling to talk about.

It is the role of media outlets such as newspapers to convey topics avoided in election campaign speeches to voters in a comprehensible fashion. Newspapers should run articles on interviews with party leaders and analysis on key points of contention in the election campaign, for example. Online or televised debate between the party leaders is also useful in deepening the public's understanding of hidden issues.

It is questionable that most TV discussion programs between party leaders ended before campaigning kicked off. Only one such program is scheduled during the campaign period, and none appears to be scheduled next week and beyond. Many such debates used to be aired during campaign periods.

Shortly before the end of a June 21 debate aired by TV Asahi, the emcee asked Abe to appear in another debate program, but the prime minister declined on the grounds that such programs were aired less frequently than now during the 2010 upper house election under the administration of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

The DP and three other key opposition parties urged the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) last week to proactively hold debate between party leaders during the campaign.

Opposition parties assert that the number of policy debate programs during the campaign period has decreased in accordance with the LDP's wishes. If that is the case, Prime Minister Abe and the LDP deserve criticism for aspiring to avoid discussion as the voting day draws near.

It is true that the prime minister's campaign itinerary is tight, as he claims. However, voters want to listen not only to candidates' and party leaders' one-way speeches but also to in-depth policy debate. The more policy forums are held, the better it is for voters. It is unwelcome for the volume of policy discussion to decrease after the campaign kicks off. The LDP should reconsider its stance toward policy debate.

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