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IRs become issue in Democratic Party leadership race

Japan’s leading opposition Democratic Party is in the midst of a leadership race between two candidates who have outlined very different positions on the establishment of IRs within the country.

The Democratic Party led the fierce but ultimately unsuccessful effort to prevent the enactment of the IR Promotion Act last December.

Seiji Maehara, the more conservative candidate who has built a strong lead among party lawmakers, is a member of the cross-party parliamentary league that has lobbied for the establishment of IRs. In debate on Tuesday, he argued that IRs could become an important driver for inbound tourism.

As a candidate for leadership of the opposition party, Maehara is not yet advocating a wholesale change of the party’s oppositional policy on IRs, but he is stating that their acceptance should be “studied” and hints that the party might take a different stance in the future.

Yukio Edano, the more liberal candidate, clearly advocates continuing opposition to IRs, stating, “Even if there is a certain positive economic effect, the issues of gambling addiction and rising personal debt must be resolved.”

This intra-party ideological division is mirrored throughout the Japanese political world, in which conservatives and the far right tends to advocate casinos, while the liberals and leftists are dedicated opponents.

Democratic Party lawmakers have estimated to AGB privately that there is roughly a 60-40 split among the party’s lawmakers in favor of the IR skeptics, meaning that while the party’s official position has hitherto been one of fierce opposition, there is a large undercurrent of advocates as well.

The September 1 leadership election may have a serious impact on the future of the IR Implementation Bill, as is the looming possibility that the Democratic Party as a whole might split or dissolve over the sharp ideological differences among its lawmakers.

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