Coalition partner chief tells Noda to ax censured ministers

Kyodo

Financial services minister Shozaburo Jimi on Saturday urged Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to dismiss two Cabinet ministers censured by the Upper House, to help smooth the passage of critical social security and tax reform bills in the Diet, ruling coalition lawmakers said.

Jimi heads Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), the junior coalition partner of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, and was quoted as telling Noda during a meeting that such “obstacles should be removed” so the long-delayed legislation can clear the gridlocked Diet, the lawmakers said.

In response, Noda only reiterated his desire to pass the legislation in the current Diet session through June, but DPJ policy chief Seiji Maehara told reporters in Okinawa Prefecture the same day that the prime minister may consider replacing the two men — Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka and transport minister Takeshi Maeda.

At their meeting, Jimi also told Noda that while he is willing to cooperate with him to enact the DPJ’s comprehensive reform package, administrative restructuring and reducing the number of lawmakers in the Diet should be tackled first.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura and Kokumin Shinto’s secretary general, Mikio Shimoji, also attended the two leaders’ talks.

Seeking additional revenue to cover mounting social security costs, the DPJ is aiming to increase the 5 percent sales tax to 8 percent in April 2014, and to 10 percent in October 2015.

But the contentious plan has caused a storm of condemnation by the opposition, and even from many members of the ruling party, who claim the plan reneges on the policy platform that helped the DPJ win the 2009 general election.

Ichiro Ozawa, a staunch opponent of the envisioned tax rise who heads the DPJ’s largest intraparty group, told a meeting of lawmakers close to him Saturday in Kumamoto Prefecture that the plan is a betrayal of the party’s campaign pledges.

“I’m not against holding a debate on the tax system, but asking the public to bear a bigger burden is contrary to what we promised in the (2009) election,” Ozawa said.

Noda has issued numerous appeals to the major opposition parties to cooperate over the legislation, but it is still highly uncertain whether the bills will be passed by summer.

The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, the two largest opposition groups, are adopting an increasingly hostile stance toward Noda’s administration and have demanded that he fire Tanaka and Maeda, who were slapped with nonbinding censure motions April 20 in the opposition-controlled upper chamber.

The opposition has targeted Tanaka for allegedly lacking the requisite security policy know-how to serve as defense minister.

Maeda, meanwhile, has come under fire after signing documents soliciting support for a specific candidate in the mayoral election of Gero, Gifu Prefecture, before official campaigning had begun — a violation of the Public Offices Election Law.