Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told the Lower House plenary session Wednesday that the government will not hike taxes to mend Japan’s debt-ridden finances, but will instead try to curb spending and the issuance of state bonds.
Responding to a question from Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama over his policy speech Monday, Koizumi stressed his decision to limit the issuance of new government bonds to 30 trillion yen from the 2002 fiscal year budget and review expenditures.
Koizumi, who was swept into power after being elected president of the dominant Liberal Democratic Party last month, also set aside the possibility of compiling a supplementary budget for the current fiscal year that began last month.
“We have just started implementing the initial budget for fiscal 2001,” he said. “I don’t think there is a need to think about a supplementary budget.”
Besides the usual jeers, the legislature was rocked by laughter and applause as the maverick leader strayed from the prepared address and gave occasional impromptu responses.
“I do not yet know who will stand against my reform agenda,” Koizumi ad-libbed at the session, where some LDP stalwarts critical of Koizumi’s reform initiative tried to stare down the new leader. “But I will regard any force that objects to the Koizumi Cabinet’s policy as a rebel force.”
Referring to the favorable status that the state-run post offices enjoy over private carriers in some business fields, Koizumi shouted: “Such logic no longer holds true under the Koizumi Cabinet!”
His straightforward remarks at the official session apparently left some of the LDP old guard surprised.
The prime minister also said that he will personally visit Yasukuni Shrine as a private citizen on the Aug. 15 anniversary of the war’s end to pay his respects to those who died for the nation.
“Japan owes its prosperity and peace to many of those who sacrificed their lives,” Koizumi said. “My feeling of profound respect and appreciation toward the war dead has not changed.”
Koizumi, who during his campaign pledged to “officially” visit the shrine should he become prime minister, added that he will consider further before deciding whether or not to make his visit official.
In 1986, Yasuhiro Nakasone was the last prime minister to officially visit the controversial shrine dedicated to Japan’s war dead. Such visits to the shrine have drawn criticism from Asian countries who suffered at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II.
On the economy, Koizumi reiterated that the government will shift from a big-spending policy to one focused on fiscal structural reform, including encouraging the disposal of bad loans.
During the Wednesday session, opposition leader Hatoyama complained that Koizumi’s “structural reform without sanctuaries” policy contained little detail.
“Despite the valiant fanfare (toward reform), you failed to make specific proposals,” Hatoyama said, demanding concrete figures, such as for the government to cut public works expenditures by 30 percent and to reduce subsidies to public corporations.
Hatoyama, whose opposition force has been left fretting over the LDP’s unprecedented popularity ahead of the Upper House election in July, went on to lash out against the government’s deportation to China last week of a man believed to be the son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il before his identity could be officially confirmed. The man was intercepted at Narita airport, trying to enter the country under a forged passport.
“Koizumi went along with the ministry’s stand to avoid trouble at any cost,” Hatoyama said.
Koizumi countered by saying that the decision was appropriate to minimize possible diplomatic friction.
Still, Hatoyama admitted that the new reformist LDP leader — unlike his predecessors — is at least on the same wavelength as he is.
“Honestly, we (the DPJ) are breathing a sigh of relief to have somebody with whom we can deliberate policy on an equal footing,” he said.
Koizumi, carefully noting that he will respect the current three-way governing coalition framework, responded that he is ready to reach out to opposition forces for cooperation.
“My position is to welcome cooperation from as many political parties as possible, as long as they share my Cabinet’s ideals,” Koizumi said.
Later in the session, Taku Yamasaki, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said the government should draw up a new Constitution by 2010. It is the first time Yamasaki, a strong advocate of revision, referred to the timing of establishing a new Constitution.
Koizumi, another Constitutional revisionist, responded that the Diet should wait and hear public opinion on the matter, but stressed that he is in favor of revising the code to introduce a system to directly elect the prime minister.
DPJ on standby
Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, instructed senior party members Wednesday to prepare for possible simultaneous elections for both the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors.
In a meeting of senior party officials held at the DPJ’s headquarters in Tokyo, Hatoyama said, “It is highly probable that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will hold a double election for both chambers at an early date. It is also possible there will be a triple election including the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.
“It is important to make preparations to ensure victory in the upcoming Upper House election,” Hatoyama stressed. “Also, I want you all to do your best for all other possibilities.”
The DPJ is the largest opposition party.
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