Divisions within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan deepened Monday as a lawmaker resigned in a show of defiance against Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s key bill to double the consumption tax to 10 percent.
Takatane Kiuchi, a DPJ freshman and follower of DPJ kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, said his boss advocated “waiting for a while,” but in the end he decided he couldn’t stay in a party that was pushing for a sales tax hike without taking other reforms to cut costs.
“Quitting the party is the only way for me to maintain my principles,” Kiuchi told reporters after submitting his resignation.
Kiuchi added that he intends become an independent.
DPJ executives fear that others may follow Kiuchi. Media polls have suggested many in the party, particularly freshmen with weak election machines like Kiuchi, may lose their seats in the next Lower House election.
The tax reform advocated by Noda now appears to be very unpopular with the public.
Ozawa has indicated that he himself may vote against the tax hike bill, which could, as observers speculate, eventually trigger the departure of many of his followers.
Kiuchi is the only lawmaker so far to bolt the party. But four other members of the party have resigned their government posts, including Senior Vice Health Minister Yoshio Maki and Senior Vice Education Minister Yuko Mori, to protest the tax hike legislation.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura insisted that the DPJ has held extensive talks on the issue and urged opponents not to resign.
“The bill was approved (by the party) after thorough discussions. I would like (the four vice ministers) to join the government and the ruling coalition in continuing to tackle this issue,” Fujimura said.
The government’s top spokesman added that he intended to talk directly to the four to ask them to reconsider.
Meanwhile, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, is also struggling with its political strategy.
The LDP was the first to advocate doubling the 5 percent sales tax, but as an opposition party its ultimate goal is to force Noda to either quit or dissolve the Lower House.
LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki has repeatedly urged Noda to dissolve the Lower House, but others within the LDP question this tactic.
LDP Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara on Sunday suggested that the party may support Noda’s tax hike bill if he overcomes the resistance posed by Ozawa and his followers and sets a timetable for dissolving the Lower House for a snap election.
But Tanigaki on Monday emphasized that he intends to launch an all-out attack on Noda and the DPJ, and that he would not promise to vote for the bill in exchange for an election.
The LDP leader, however, also left the door open to other options.
“We, the opposition, need to launch a bold attack . . . and are demanding a dissolution of the lower chamber,” Tanigaki said during a speech in Tokyo. “Following our head-on collision, (if Noda) can think of an alternative way to settle things, we do not intend to eliminate all possibilities.”