The four candidates in a race to replace unpopular Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori on Saturday sought to differentiate their policies as they left Tokyo for the first time since kicking off their campaign three days ago.
Speaking to thousands of people in downtown Osaka, Japan’s second largest city, the four contenders spoke mainly about ways to pull the economy out of its longest slump in decades.
Along with former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, former Health Minister Junichiro Koizumi, party policy chief Shizuka Kamei and Economic Minister Taro Aso are running in the party elections scheduled for April 24.
The winner will be elected as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and thus prime minister, given the party’s sheer dominance in Parliament.
Front-runner Hashimoto called for more private-sector contributions to cover the cost of health insurance for the elderly as a way of reducing public outlays. “I see the need for combining private-sector insurance with coverage by the public system and taxes,” Hashimoto said.
Aso and Kamei, however, told supporters in Osaka that more public spending was required to spur growth and speed up the disposal of banks’ massive bad debts.
Koizumi, meanwhile, called for reform within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has been widely criticized for backroom dealings to select its leader and decide on public policy.
He has also criticized heavy reliance on public spending to prop up the economy, a view supported by many in Japan.
“It is condemnable to call for more public spending, to be swayed by every cyclical move in the economy,” a leading daily Mainichi newspaper said.