Japan's ruling and opposition parties clashed over the handling of the economy and coronavirus response on Wednesday, as campaigning for the Oct. 31 general election heated up, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida fending off criticism over the government's failure to address the income gap.

Speaking in Kobe, western Japan, a day after campaigning began, Kishida vowed to implement "economic policies that will raise the income and salaries of as many people as possible."

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, makes a stump speech in Kobe on Oct. 20, 2021, ahead of a general election on Oct. 31. (Kyodo)

"The important thing is for you to spend when your income and salaries go up, because spending will bring economic growth and create the virtuous cycle of growth and distribution," he said, in reference to his vision of a "new capitalism" that focuses on growth and the redistribution of wealth.

But in a stump speech in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, blamed the LDP government for not raising over the past nine years the income of essential workers, such as care workers, nursery staff and nurses.

Edano asked why Kishida was urging private companies to raise salaries when politics is the reason behind the low salaries of such care workers, saying the wages "can be raised if the government decides."

Edano also took aim at the prime minister's backpedaling on promises to raise the capital gains tax.

"Many people who live in this rich country Japan cannot feel it. Let us share that wealth. Let us make people who made money through stocks pay more tax," said Edano, adding, "It is wrong that the tax rate for money made through stocks is lower than that for money earned by working."

The CDPJ has been calling for the redistribution of wealth first to promote economic growth.

While Kishida reiterated his pledge to "consider the worst case scenario" in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, Edano urged the public to let him take charge instead.

The CDPJ head said he had been hoping Kishida would create a command center to deal with the pandemic, only to learn that such a center was still a long way away because debate on the subject has yet to start.

"It is important not to let coronavirus cases rebound," Edano said, underscoring the urgency of a command post.

Leaders of the other parties also gave speeches across the country.

Keiichi Ishii, secretary general of the LDP's smaller partner Komeito, said in Tokyo, "Only the LDP-Komeito coalition can revive the Japanese economy damaged by the coronavirus pandemic."

In Sapporo, Kazuo Shii of the opposition Japanese Communist Party, said, "We need a change of government in order to protect lives from the novel coronavirus."

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