Ozawa slams Cabinet tax hike approval

DPJ don slams timing of consumption tax levy as his loyalists quit party, government posts in protest

Kyodo

Former Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa on Saturday criticized Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Cabinet for approving a bill to raise the consumption tax.

“I doubt the time is right to implement such a big tax hike. We have things to do before asking the public to shoulder the burden,” Ozawa told a meeting in the city of Miyazaki.

The bill, approved by the Cabinet and submitted to the Diet on Friday, would increase the 5 percent consumption tax in two stages, to 8 percent in April 2014 and to 10 percent in October 2015, to cover swelling social security costs.

“Unless we realize the politics that we promised the public, more people will distance themselves from the DPJ government. Japanese politics would then become more confused,” he said.

Ozawa was a chief architect of the DPJ’s ascent to power in 2009 and heads the party’s largest faction.

Four senior vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries close to Ozawa said Friday they submitted letters of resignation to the prime minister’s office in protest over the Cabinet’s approval of the tax hike bill.

They are Senior Vice Health Minister Yoshio Maki, State Secretary for Internal Affairs Toru Kikawada, Senior Vice Education Minister Yuko Mori and Vice Internal Affairs Minister Ryo Shuhama.

Six Ozawa loyalists also quit senior DPJ posts in protest, including Deputy Secretary General Katsumasa Suzuki and Vice Secretary General Takeshi Hidaka.

The other four were all vice policy affairs chairmen: Tetsuhisa Matsuzaki, Tetsuji Nakamura, Hokuto Yokoyama and Takeshi Shina.

Later Friday, DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi indicated he will try to persuade those who resigned to change their mind and remain at their posts.

“I’d like to make arrangements and ask” them to reconsider their resignations, Koshiishi said.

Opposition lashes out

Kyodo

Opposition parties are lashing out at the Cabinet’s approval of a bill to raise the sales levy, accusing the ruling coalition of putting more priority on the tax hike than social security reform.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of New Komeito, said during a meeting of Diet members Friday that he sees the move as “giving precedence to a tax hike.”

The bill put forward by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda would increase the consumption tax rate from 5 percent to 8 percent in April 2014 and to 10 percent in October 2015, to cover ballooning social security costs.

With the details of social security reforms still “ambiguous,” Yamaguchi said “it would be hard to reach the point of passing (the bill).”

Noda is frantically trying to pass the bill in the current Diet session, which is scheduled to end in mid-June.

Touching on the ruling coalition’s disarray over the tax hike bill, Sadakazu Tanigaki, head of the Liberal Democratic Party, reiterated the “need to dissolve the Lower House and call a general election.”

The LDP chief was referring to divisions within Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), the Democratic Party of Japan’s junior coalition partner. Kokumin Shinto leader Shizuka Kamei, who strongly opposes the tax hike, has said his party will leave the coalition, but the majority of the party’s Diet members want to remain in the ruling camp for the time being.

Leaders of smaller opposition parties lauded Kamei for his stance.

Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, praised Kamei for trying to uphold his promise to the public not to raise the tax, while Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe said Kamei is “saying the right thing.”

According to Kazuo Shii, head of the Japanese Communist Party, raising the tax now would have a damaging impact on people and companies.