Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, drew swift criticism for suggesting people who choose not to have children are “selfish” when giving a speech on June 26.

When asked by an audience member at the Tokyo event about measures the government is taking to arrest the declining birthrate, Nikai, 79, unfavorably compared today’s childbearing age population with their wartime equivalents.

“During and after the war, there were no people who chose not to have kids because it was troublesome,” Nikai said. “There are people who think selfishly that they will be happier by choosing not to have children.

“To make everyone happy, people should have many children, which will also make our country flourish,” Nikai added.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rebutted Nikai’s remarks when Yukio Edano, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, raised the issue at the debate between party leaders in the Diet on June 27.

“Whether to have children is the choice of each person, and this is not something that we should give opinions on. I will create a society where anyone who wants can have children,” said Abe.

Reacting to Nikai’s comments on June 26, Yuichiro Tamaki, 49, co-leader of the Democratic Party for the People, told reporters at his party headquarters, “It is wrong to moralize on specific ideas of what a family should be, or to prescribe specific values.”

“(The LDP is) the ‘ossan’ (old fogies') party, which persists with such old-fashioned values,” Tamaki added.

Nikai’s remarks are the latest in a string of controversial comments by LDP members on the declining birthrate and conventional family values.

Kanji Kato, 72, a Lower House lawmaker, said at a meeting of the LDP’s Hosoda faction on May 10, “I always tell brides and grooms at wedding parties that I would like them to have three or more children.”

Kato later retracted the comment.

Koichi Hagiuda, 54, the executive acting secretary-general of LDP, also gave a speech on May 27 to the LDP’s Miyazaki prefectural chapter in which he said, “If children up to 3 years old were asked, ‘which do you like better, your mother or father?’ infants would definitely choose their mothers.”