Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called for support from his Democratic Party of Japan colleagues Monday to back his planned reform of the social security and tax systems and urged unity to weather what looks to be a stormy Diet session starting in a week.
“Without (reforms), there’s no future for Japan,” Noda said at the DPJ’s annual convention in Tokyo, held in the wake of his Friday Cabinet reshuffle to pursue the reforms and replace two ministers who were censured by the Liberal Democratic Party-led opposition, which controls the Upper House.
Noda hinted that if his reform goals are reached, he may dissolve the Lower House and call an election, but ruled out an early poll just because the opposition camp wants one.
“I’ll tackle the reforms at any cost after carrying out political (downsizing) to sacrifice ourselves, and administrative reforms, including pay cuts, for national civil servants,” he said.
The DPJ plans to submit a bill to trim the number of Lower House seats by 80 from the current 480 as part of the party’s 2009 campaign pledge.
Noda’s emphasis on reducing government and Diet costs came after top officials at the DPJ’s prefectural chapters expressed concern at a gathering Sunday in Tokyo about Noda’s social security and tax reforms.
They said they won’t be able to gain public approval unless the DPJ promotes administrative reforms and shrinks the Diet before hiking taxes.
Katsuya Okada, newly appointed deputy prime minister and minister in charge of the health and tax reforms, echoed the same view.
“I think we should” reduce the number of lawmakers, he said on an NHK talk show Sunday, adding he plans to ask the opposition to join talks on the issue. Okada also said lawmakers’ salaries should be slashed along with that of the civil servants.
To bolster the reforms, Noda chose Okada, a party heavyweight who served as foreign minister and DPJ secretary general under former Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
Okada is considered influential as he used to chair the party’s administrative reform panel and negotiate with the secretaries general of the LDP and New Komeito. He was one of the executives who suspended indicted kingpin Ichiro Ozawa’s party membership.
On Jan. 6, Noda’s government approved DPJ-proposed social welfare and tax reforms, including raising the 5 percent consumption tax to 8 percent in April 2014 and to 10 percent in October 2015 to help fund the swelling expenses for social security services such as welfare and medical care.
The DPJ hopes to start discussing the plan with the opposition camp as soon as possible so a broad reform outline can be crafted and a related bill submitted to the Diet by March.
Although former DPJ Diet affairs chief Hirofumi Hirano asked his LDP and New Komeito counterparts to start discussing the reform plan last Thursday, they refused to comply, saying the Cabinet reshuffle must come first.
At the convention, Noda again urged the opposition parties to join the discussions, saying they can’t evade their responsibility to cooperate on reforms just because they are in the opposition.
Gaining their support, however, will be difficult as they want Noda to dissolve the Lower House and call an election.
The LDP, New Komeito and other opposition parties claim the proposed tax hikes contradict the DPJ’s 2009 campaign pledge, which offered sweet promises based on rosy scenarios but no bitter medicine to cure the nation’s economic ills. The LDP, however, had actually backed hiking the sales levy and was the first to propose it.