During a debate in the Lower House last week, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Mr. Sadakazu Tanigaki, chief of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, appeared to have reached agreements on several issues. The ruling and opposition parties should use that momentum to break the current political stagnation, especially the slowness in reconstruction from the 3/11 disasters.
At the outset of his questioning, Mr. Tanigaki pointed out the slowness in disposal of debris and in reconstruction of roads and ports. Mr. Noda replied that he will increase the speed of reconstruction, with the Reconstruction Agency playing a central role.
Both Mr. Noda and Mr. Tanigaki agreed on the importance of quickly carrying out a reapportionment of the Lower House seats. Last March, the Supreme Court ruled that the August 2009 Lower House election was held in an unconstitutional state because of a large disparity in the value of one vote between depopulated rural areas and populated urban areas.
The Democratic Party of Japan has already accepted the LDP’s proposal of abolishing one single-seat constituency each in five prefectures. Both the ruling and opposition camps should quickly proceed with this plan. But the DPJ’s proposal to cut the number of Lower House seats for proportional representation by 80 should be blocked because this could lead to suppression of minority opinions.
Mr. Noda called on the LDP to take part in consultations with the DPJ over the integrated reform of the tax and social welfare systems, which will include raising the consumption tax. In the July 2010 Upper House election, both the DPJ and the LDP called for increasing the consumption tax to help strengthen the social welfare system. Mr. Tanigaki admitted that he and Mr. Noda shared common views on part of the issue. But he did not accept Mr. Noda’s call on the grounds that the concrete shape of the integrated reform has yet to be shown.
Both Mr. Noda and Mr. Tanigaki should examine the wisdom of raising the consumption tax at this stage because such a move could put a brake on economic recovery and lead to a decrease in overall tax revenues. But they should seek other areas where they can cooperate for the sake of improving people’s lives. They should seriously think how they can overcome public distrust in the current politic situation. It was reported that the two met secretly on Feb. 25; they should strive to be more transparent in their political discussions.