Hatoyama’s broken vow points to Ozawa pulling the strings

by Jun Hongo

The Democratic Party of Japan-led administration revealed its true colors with its decision to renege on an election pledge and effectively keep the current gas tax, analysts said Tuesday, charging that DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa is calling the shots.

“Policymaking should basically be entrusted to the government,” Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ president, told reporters Tuesday when asked if Ozawa played any role in his controversial decision.

“But obviously, we need to listen to the voice of the DPJ” as the opinion of the public, he added.

Hatoyama on Monday essentially called off a key political pledge by the DPJ, saying the provisional current gas tax rate will be terminated but replaced by a new tax.

When campaigning for the August general election, the DPJ promised to end surcharges on road-related taxes that amount to about ¥2.5 trillion in revenue every year. But Ozawa put the kibosh on this vow when he called on the government less than a week ago to continue the levy, and Hatoyama heeded him.

Requests by the DPJ should be taken as “the public’s voice,” Hatoyama said, adding that trimming the gas tax will counter climate change efforts as well as tighten already limited government income revenue.

Reporters bombarded government officials with questions Tuesday wanting to know if Ozawa is effectively calling the shots.

“This conclusion falls within what I had in mind,” Deputy Prime Minister Naoto Kan stressed, hinting that continuing the gas tax was an option for the administration even before Ozawa made the request.

“Handling of the provisional tax rate had been discussed among Cabinet members, and we had some options,” Kan said. “We incorporated the request from the DPJ, but overall it was within what we considered.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano also said Hatoyama led the government in making the call, denying Ozawa wields undue power.

“Deputy Prime Minister Kan played the key role,” Hirano said. “And the prime minister himself made the final decision.”

Hirano acknowledged that Hatoyama’s decision counters a pledge made in the DPJ’s campaign manifesto, but not because of some shady influence.

“The biggest reason was that tax revenues dropped to a point we did not imagine,” Hirano said. “We had to think of the lives of the public and our economic policies.”

But analysts said the double power structure of the government and ruling DPJ has become obvious: Ozawa is in charge.

“Hatoyama is clearly just the head clerk of the administration,” said Minoru Morita, a political critic at Morita Research Institute Co.

Hatoyama rejected Ozawa’s proposal to institute an income cap on the child-care allowance, but that was just a ploy to make it appear some control remains in Hatoyama’s hands, according to Morita.

“The DPJ proposed an income cap for households with an annual income of more than ¥20 million — which is about 1 percent of the population. (The income cap) was never a serious issue to begin with,” Morita said.

The prime minister appears unable to make decisions without Ozawa’s support, the noted critic said, expressing concern that this double power structure will ultimately allow both sides to run the government irresponsibly.

But Morita said that effectively continuing the gas tax should be taken seriously regardless of how the decision was reached, since it breaks one of the key political pledges the DPJ relied on to achieve its landslide victory in the general election.

“Dropping a political pledge made during the general election can have serious consequences. It will likely have an effect on the DPJ’s campaign for July’s Upper House election,” Morita said.