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Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto is not only facing foreign pressure to restore the nation’s economic health; he is now also confronted with growing criticism from Japan’s business leaders, who are raising doubts about his management of the economy.

Earlier this week, Seiji Tsutsumi, chairman of Saison Corp. and the former deputy chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) called on Hashimoto to step down to take responsibility for mismanaging the nation’s economic policy. Such sentiment appears to be spreading among business circles.

Although he did not name a possible candidate, Tsutsumi said that the next prime minister should be strong in economic — as well as international — policy.

On Wednesday, Susumu Tenporin, another deputy chairman of Keizai Doyukai, also lashed out against Hashimoto’s economic policy, saying none of the measures included in the government’s 16 trillion yen economic package will lead to structural reform. “The government has only gathered temporary measures to be implemented year by year, and such measures will not change Japan’s economic structure at all,” Tenporin said, strongly criticizing the government’s plan to inject money into traditional public works projects.

Politicians reacted strongly to the criticism. At Tuesday’s executive meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, many lawmakers expressed discontent with Tsutsumi’s remarks. “We should not be criticized by a business leader who failed to manage his own company,” Yoshiro Mori, chairman of the LDP’s General Council, reportedly said.

LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato was also quoted as saying that a comment by a business leader will not affect the prime minister’s course of action.

On Wednesday, Jiro Nemoto, chairman of the Japan Federation of Employers’ Associations (Nikkeiren) also said Hashimoto needs to demonstrate stronger leadership.

Nemoto said Hashimoto should carry out tax reform within the current fiscal year, and reiterated that the tax cuts to be implemented this year should be made permanent. However, Nemoto urged Hashimoto to stay on as prime minister. He pointed out that in the half-century since the end of World War II, Germany has had six chancellors, Britain 12 prime ministers and the United States 10 presidents — while Japan has had a total of 25 prime ministers. “These figures show that Japan has changed its leaders too frequently” he said, adding that leaders cannot achieve many goals if their tenures are too short.

“The scale of reforms that Prime Minister Hashimoto is currently trying to implement is huge, and I doubt if it is the right thing to introduce another prime minister in the middle of such reforms,” Nemoto said.

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