Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Thursday admitted his push to open debate on hiking the consumption tax cost his Democratic Party of Japan seats in the July 11 Upper House election but called on his colleagues to support his Cabinet and unite for the tough road ahead.

“I apologize from my heart for my careless remarks, which became a cause for a difficult election campaign,” Kan said at a meeting for all DPJ members in the Diet. “But we must now pull together as a team in order to promulgate our policies.”

Kan also expressed his eagerness to remain as leader of the DPJ while facing pressure from his ranks to step down over the ruling bloc’s loss of its Upper House majority. If he exited before September, this would set the stage for a fourth prime minister within a year’s time.

Kan, who assumed office in June, said he wants all DPJ lawmakers and local supporters to judge if he deserves to be re-elected as party president in September.

He said he believes the defeat represents a warning from the public that the DPJ should not lose the enthusiasm it showed last summer with its historic assumption of power, to make the lives of ordinary people better.

DPJ Secretary General Yukio Edano submitted a report at the meeting assessing how the party mismanaged the Upper House contest. The report highlighted Kan’s urgent public proposals for opening bipartisan debate on a consumption tax hike.

The former finance minister, who was elected head of the party in June after the abrupt resignation of Yukio Hatoyama, kicked off his stint as prime minister by immediately talking up the need to raise tax revenues to curb the snowballing national debt, alluding to an opposition plan to double it to 10 percent.

He also tried to sweeten the idea by insisting any hike be accompanied by lower levies on daily goods and refunds for low-income households, although he was never specific about the details.

Nevertheless, Thursday’s internal report criticized the move for leaving voters “hugely disappointed” ahead of the election.

It also said the party failed to remind voters of any of the successes it had achieved in its brief 10 months in power, leaving Kan’s comments on fiscal policy the focal point of the campaign.

Information from Kyodo added

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