/

Tanigaki throws hat into ring

Will shun Yasukuni, back '10 sales tax hike

by Hiroko Nakata

Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki on Thursday became the first Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker to officially declare his candidacy for the Sept. 20 LDP presidential election, pledging that if he becomes the next prime minister, he will not visit Yasukuni Shrine.

In his announcement to the media, Tanigaki said the government also needs to raise the consumption tax to at least 10 percent from the current 5 percent early in the next decade.

Earlier in the day, Tanigaki met with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to tell him of his candidacy for the election and made the announcement at a meeting of his LDP faction.

Tanigaki told reporters he will work to mend Japan’s strained ties with China and South Korea.

His remarks are in stark contrast to comments from the hawkish Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, 51, already considered the front-runner in the LDP presidential race. Abe is a hardliner on East Asian issues and has defended Koizumi’s annual visits to Yasukuni.

“If I become the prime minister, I will refrain from visiting Yasukuni Shrine,” 61-year-old Tanigaki said.

Koizumi’s annual visits to the war-related Shinto shrine since he took office in 2001 have sparked strong criticism by China and South Korea, which have both demanded he stop his trips.

Tanigaki said Koizumi’s Yasukuni visits are a key reason for the strained relations.

“It is abnormal that Japan and its neighbor countries cannot have summits right now,” Tanigaki said. “We have to normalize those relations as soon as possible and I believe it necessary to create an Asian hotline.”

As for controlling the ballooning fiscal deficit, Tanigaki said the government should increase the consumption tax to at least 10 percent in or soon after 2010.

With a rapidly aging population, the finance minister said the country could not avoid a hike in the tax, as that revenue will be needed to pay for pensions, and medical and nursing care.

“I don’t want to stay away from efforts to reconstruct the (country’s) fiscal policies,” he said.

Tanigaki’s remarks on the consumption tax will likely increase debate among LDP lawmakers, as many believe backing a tax hike will drive away voters from the LDP, which has to get ready for the Upper House election next summer.

Tanigaki, a Lower House member, has held several key Cabinet posts, including minister for industrial revitalization and chairman of the National Public Safety Commission.

His announcement followed news that former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, an LDP heavyweight and one of the four prospective candidates, said July 21 he will not join the race.

While Abe is already expected to win the presidential poll, Fukuda’s decision is likely to boost his win.

Tanigaki trails behind the others in public support. Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Aso, 65, are expected to announce their candidacies in late August.