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Japanese opposition launches manifesto

JAPAN'S main opposition Democratic Party launched its platform yesterday to woo voters in next month's elections, including pledges of toll-free highways and money for families and education - policies the ruling party says are just empty promises.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed Japan with only a short break since its founding in 1955, faces a tough task to stay in power.

Many analysts say the party is likely headed for defeat in the August 30 vote for parliament's powerful lower house.

The popularity of Prime Minister Taro Aso has tumbled amid surging unemployment and bankruptcies set off by the global financial crisis.

His party is increasingly seen as out-of-touch with the public and preoccupied with infighting within its own ranks.

Yukio Hatoyama, head of the Democratic Party, looked to tap into that dissatisfaction yesterday, saying a change of rule was needed to wrest power away from bureaucrats and hand it back to the people.

"We will fight for a change of rule. ... Our sole goal is to make people the main players in politics," he said.

Popular policies

The Democrats' platform was aimed squarely at winning popularity with voters during hard times - outlining perks for households like a free high-school education, reforms in the pension system and 26,000 yen (US$270) a month dole-outs for every child in a household.

It also promised toll-free highways.

The Liberal Democrats and critics say the promises could prove to be empty because Japan is already burdened with massive public debt and it is unclear where the money to fund such efforts would come from.

Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano, a Liberal Democrat, has repeatedly criticized the Democrats as irresponsible, especially in their economic policies, while at the same time defending massive stimulus packages passed by Aso's administration to wrest the world's second largest economy out of a deep downturn.

Hatoyama said the Democrats would eliminate waste in public spending by ending what they say is pork-barrel spending that became routine and massive under the Liberal Democrats.


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