Ozawa urged to back sales tax hike

Kyodo

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Monday urged ruling party power-broker Ichiro Ozawa to support the party’s goal to double the 5 percent consumption tax.

Noda reiterated his call to Ozawa, a vocal opponent of the tax hike, in a bid to tap into the clout of the former Democratic Party of Japan leader, who was acquitted last week over a political funds scandal.

“Our party made the decision (on the tax hike) after lengthy discussions,” Noda told reporters accompanying him on his U.S. trip. “Ultimately, we want party members to follow the party’s line.”

Noda, head of the DPJ, is aiming to pass a bill on the tax hike during the current Diet session, which lasts through June.

In late March, the Cabinet approved the contentious bill to increase the sales tax in two stages, to 8 percent in April 2014 and to 10 percent in October 2015.

On the issue of Ozawa’s party membership, DPJ executives intend to reinstate him sometime after the Golden Week holidays. His membership was suspended after his indictment in January 2011.

In view of Ozawa’s April 26 acquittal, Noda said party executives will “discuss it and make a decision.” Noda indicated he will personally try to persuade Ozawa not to oppose the tax hike bill after Ozawa regains his membership.

Ozawa, who is credited with the DPJ’s rise to power in 2009, heads the largest party faction, and his allies have followed him in opposing the tax hike.

The prime minister also has to deal with hostility from the main opposition parties, which have criticized his decision to retain Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka and transport minister Takeshi Maeda despite censure motions against them.

Tanaka and Maeda were censured by the opposition-controlled Upper House last month, but Noda reiterated he intends to keep them in his Cabinet, a move that has irked the opposition at a time when he needs their cooperation to achieve his tax hike goal.