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Aso falls into line on Abe’s tax hike delay

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Staff Writer

Finance Minister Taro Aso said Tuesday he will support Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s expected decision to delay the increase in the consumption tax, backpedaling from earlier criticism that doing so would renege on an election pledge the Liberal Democratic Party made in 2014.

He also said he will accept Abe’s decision not to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election to run concurrently with the Upper House race in July.

Aso is one of Abe’s longtime allies. The two reportedly met for three hours at a Tokyo hotel Monday night, where they agreed to delay the consumption tax hike. The rate, currently 8 percent, was scheduled to rise by 2 points in April.

“Many different opinions often crop up within the LDP. It’s the job of our chief to coordinate these opinions and make an ultimate decision,” Aso told a news conference Tuesday. “We just follow that decision. That’s the rule.”

The move to delay the tax hike was formally endorsed by the LDP during a policy meeting later in the day.

Aso’s acceptance ended mutterings that were growing over the weekend, a rare expression of discord under Abe’s usually monolithic grip on power. Both Aso and LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki openly criticized Abe’s plan to put off the hike for a second time. The raise was originally slated to take place in October 2015.

In November 2014, when the Lower House was last dissolved, Abe vowed that the tax hike would occur in 2017 with no further deferments.

In a speech Sunday in Toyama Prefecture, Aso said another general election would be needed to seek a public mandate for a further delay.

On Tuesday, however, he said he will respect whatever appropriate decision Abe makes, saying it is the “prerogative” of the prime minister to decide whether to dissolve the Lower House.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also on Tuesday ruled out dissolving the Lower House, quoting Abe as saying he has no intention of calling a general election.

Meanwhile, opposition parties delighted in Abe’s about-face, calling it evidence of the failure of Abenomics.

They submitted a no-confidence motion to the Lower House on Tuesday.

The resolution, filed by the Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party and others, names a range of issues, including alleging that Abenomics has widened economic disparities in the population.

“It’s undeniable that the grave failure of Prime Minister Abe’s economic policies prevented the consumption tax hike. Not only that, people’s lives are destroyed and the problems of poverty and income disparity have worsened,” Katsuya Okada, president of the DP, told a Lower House plenary session.

“Prime Minister Abe, you should admit to the failure of your Abenomics policies, apologize to the public for reneging on your campaign promise and immediately resign,” Okada said.

The no-confidence motion was voted down.

Aso, meanwhile, seemed unconvinced by Abe’s assertion during the Group of Seven Ise-Shima summit last week that the world economy is facing conditions reminiscent of those at the start of the 2008 financial crisis. There is speculation that Abe said this merely to justify his decision on the tax hike.

While agreeing that uncertainties linger for some emerging economies, the situation for developed nations is “definitely not bad,” Aso said, echoing those G-7 leaders who questioned Abe’s assessment.

The DP was quick to twist the knife: “The prime minister basically shifted the blame onto the world economy. That makes him a target of global ridicule and seriously harms Japan’s national interest,” said Yukio Edano, secretary-general of the DP.