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Abe using lower house dissolution as escape hatch from favoritism scandals: Maehara

Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara answers a question during a Sept. 19, 2017 interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's move to dissolve the House of Representatives and call a snap election is an act of self-defense, designed to allow him to hide disturbing details of the Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution favoritism scandals and escape probing questions in the Diet.

So said Seiji Maehara, the newly minted leader of the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP), during a Sept. 19 interview with the Mainichi Shimbun. Maehara added that, in his 24 years as a lawmaker, he has never seen a dissolution timed like this -- right at the start of the autumn extraordinary Diet session -- and called the move heretical. Dissolving the lower house, he says, should come only after dignified Diet debate on the issues of the day.

Maehara also pointed out that the likely election call means lawmakers will be denied the chance to question Abe's Cabinet of "efficient workers" on exactly what they have been working on in the month and a half since their appointments.

The prime minister has apparently called for the revenues from the consumption tax increase scheduled for October 2019 to be applied to social security programs, but Maehara said that Abe appears to have lifted this proposal from Maehara's own "All for all" policy ideas to effectively eliminate it as an election issue.

The DP leader emphasized that his party's goal was to transform Japanese society from one based on personal responsibility -- the cause of much anxiety -- to one where the welfare and burdens of all are shared by all. Furthermore, Maehara wants to illustrate the differences between the DP and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, including on DP policy points the LDP has grabbed for itself, through the DP's full policy package. He is also looking to finish the broad strokes of the party's election manifesto by around the time the lower house is dissolved.

About the coming election, Maehara revealed that the DP is backing 215 single seat constituency candidates so far, and aims to get behind 233, or over half the seats in the lower chamber. It would be best, he said, to have candidates in every constituency, but if that proves difficult under the compressed election timeline, then the DP will work to confront the ruling parties including through the support of candidates for other opposition parties.

Because lower house elections decide who can form a government, it is important for parties cooperating with each other to have consistent policy principles, Maehara noted. Thus, the DP could not form a coalition government with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), as the two parties' thinking on the consumption tax and the Japan-U.S. security arrangement differs deeply. However, it is preferable to have just one opposition candidate facing off against the ruling party candidate in single-seat constituencies, so Maehara wants to find a good way to make that work. He added that the DP is working with various parties through various channels.

Regarding a nascent party forming around former LDP member Masaru Wakasa and ex-DP heavyweight Goshi Hosono, Maehara says he hasn't heard anything policy-wise except the need for a unicameral Diet. He added that rural Japan's impoverishment and the public's concerns about their post-retirement lives -- a core issue facing the country -- cannot be solved by converting to a unicameral parliamentary system. As the new party has not revealed a vision for what kind of society it wants to make, at present the DP cannot judge whether it can form an alliance with it, Maehara said.

Maehara noted that, when he ran for the DP leadership, he said he would make a comprehensive decision on whether to run candidates against party defectors, and that position had not changed.

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