The two candidates are seen as ideological opposites, but their differences seem more style than substance, if their appearance on today's Sunday Project is any indication.
On the domestic front, they both favor reform, duly corrected to take account of those left behind, particularly in the less populated areas beyond hailing distance from major urban centers. (Does anyone have a good translation for 地方(chihou)? Does anyone even know what地方(chihou) means?) But neither wants to throw more money at them by way of more public works. They want to be more selective, is want they want. And the details that they gave were too spotty and anecdotal to come to any kind of conclusions.
They both favor a 1% consumption tax hike in order to cover shortfalls in the public pension system. Their differences there seem to be more of an accounting issue than anything else.
At first glance, they appear to be miles apart on the abductees issue. Nobuteru Ishihara, the LDP Secretary General, who came on at the beginning of the program, clearly believes that the US is abandoning the abductees issue. He looked about as furious as he is capable of, and all but came out and advocated pulling out from the Six-Party Talks. When the question is later put to the candidates, though, Mr. Fukuda - as with everything and everyone else, you sometimes feel - advocates dialogue, with the North Koreans here of course. Mr. Aso, alarmingly, appears to endorse Mr. Ishihara's views. But then, he leans forward and, with a cagey grin, tells Soichiro Tawara, the septuagenarian host of the long-running program, that the Six-Party Talks are about North Korea's nuclear program and the abductees issue; so guess who has the most to gain? In one fell swoop of illogic, he has bridged the gap between Mr. Ishihara's anger and Japan’s need to keep talking..
They are not that far apart on Yasukuni either, at least where its international implications ar concerned. Mr. Fukuda advocates a secular, national memorial, while Mr. Aso favors secularizing Yasukuni itself. Both believe that the WW II leaders executed as Class A War Criminals do not belong there. Of course, Mr. Aso explicitly supports Yushukan, the war museum with its singular take on history issues, which would require substantial reworking before it becomes acceptable to our neighbors. But neither plan is much more than a gleam in the eyes of the beholder, and even a Prime Minister Aso can be expected to stay away from Yasukuni for the time being, which is what counts.
As for the more pressing extension of the counter-terrorism act (or, increasingly more appropriately, continuation of the refueling activities), Mr. Fukuda, unlike Mr. Aso, refuses to a priori accept the hypothetical resort to a revote, and predictably repeats his dialogue mantra. But, like Mr. Aso, he does say that he would put the national interest above public opinion, after Mr. Tawara prods him mercilessly like a stray doggie.
Of course, Mr. Aso advocates The Arc of Freedom and Prosperity, which explicitly excludes China. (I've always failed to see the point of this concept, but maybe that's just me. Or it makes me a Panda hugger. Whatever. But I digress.) But he also went to great pains to stress that he was all for a prosperous China. Mr. Fukuda confined himself to stating his opposition to exclusionary undertakings. On the other hand, both candidates expressed concern at the Chinese military build-up.
If this face-off is any indication, style aside, there will be no major break from the Koizumi/Abe years, no matter which one wins. It is yet another demonstration of how the LDP, whatever its leaders desire individually, cannot go beyond the policy constraints that Japan faces without precipitous consequences. And that goes for the two candidates.
It could be worse.