Noda support rate up but more snub tax hike

Kyodo

Public support for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Cabinet has risen 2.6 percentage points from February to 31.6 percent, according to a Kyodo News poll released Tuesday.

But the telephone poll conducted Monday and Tuesday also showed 56.0 percent of the respondents are against the Noda administration’s plan to raise the consumption tax to 10 percent in stages, while 42.1 percent support the move. The number of respondents was not provided.

In a survey taken in February, 50.6 percent opposed the tax hike while 48.3 percent were in favor of the measure, which is aimed at financing ballooning social security costs.

The disapproval rating for the Cabinet stood at 50.2 percent this time, compared with 55.2 percent in February.

Asked about their expectations for the government after the next Lower House election, which must be held no later than summer 2013 but could be called by Noda before then, 38.3 percent, the largest group of respondents, said a political realignment is desirable, followed by 23.4 percent who want to see Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan form a grand coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party.

A large majority of the respondents, 72.7 percent, said the government is not doing enough to cut public spending, such as through the proposed reduction in the number of lawmakers.

As for the cut in public servants’ salaries approved by the Diet in late February, 64.5 percent said they approve of the move.

Revised for consensus

Democratic Party of Japan leaders have agreed to revise the planned bill on raising the consumption tax so it will no longer indicate the timing of further increases, in an effort to get all ranks in the DPJ to back the legislation.

Executives of the ruling party also agreed that specific economic figures, including an achieved, sustained rate of growth, should be included in the bill as a gauge, and not as a “condition,” for any further tax hikes beyond those planned, lawmakers said Monday.

The DPJ leaders hope to reach a consensus within the party this week to allow the Cabinet to approve the bill next week. The proposed legislation would raise the 5 percent consumption tax to 8 percent in April 2014 and to 10 percent in October 2015.

The process could be delayed by former DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa and his supporters, who oppose the tax hike, making it more difficult for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to fulfill his pledge at the Group of 20 summit in France last year to raise the levy.

The Cabinet hopes to approve the bill March 27 after Noda visits South Korea for an international nuclear security summit.

The tax hike plan comes as the government is making efforts to restore Japan’s fiscal health — the worst among major developed countries — while public finances are under intense pressure from growing social security spending as the population ages.

But Ozawa, a chief architect of the DPJ’s ascent to power through the 2009 general election and head of the largest faction within the party, has argued the tax hike could harm the economy, which is struggling to recover from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster and its aftermath.

The DPJ vowed in its platform for the 2009 Lower House election not to increase the consumption tax until the next election.