Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Wednesday he has no plans to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election anytime soon but will do so before the government raises the consumption tax.

“I have said that I will ask for public judgment before (the sales tax) will be raised, and that remains unchanged,” Kan said during a Lower House plenary session.

Fielding questions from Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki, Kan, however, said he will not immediately call an election, stressing his priority is to clear the fiscal 2011 budget.

“Considering the current economic environment and the lives of the people, the most important task of the Cabinet is to pass the fiscal 2011 budget as soon as possible,” said Kan, president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. “I have no intention to dissolve (the Lower House) at present.”

Kan did not elaborate on how much the consumption tax should be raised and when, saying he will make a final decision after he takes the opposition’s opinions into consideration.

He reiterated his call for the opposition camp to join a nonpartisan discussion on social welfare and tax reforms, encouraging them to join even before the government maps out a draft by June.

“I want to listen to the opinions of the opposition at the stage when the government is in the process of drawing up a draft,” Kan said.

But Tanigaki said his party will join discussions only after Kan calls an election.

“If (Kan) seeks a public judgment, we will consider it Prime Minister Kan’s ‘determination’ and will actively and sincerely join the discussion between the ruling and opposition parties over tax reform,” Tanigaki said.

Because tax reform — including raising the consumption tax — is a huge policy change, Kan needs to dissolve the lower chamber for a snap election to see if it has the backing of voters, Tanigaki said.

Tanigaki further criticized Kan for appointing Kaoru Yosano, a one-time vocal critic of DPJ policies, as state minister in charge of social welfare tax reform.

“It means either minister Yosano changed sides or the DPJ government changed sides without apologizing to the public,” Tanigaki said.

But Kan rebuffed this criticism, saying he appointed Yosano, a former LDP heavyweight, because he is versed in social welfare policies, adding the Cabinet will speak with one voice once the government draft is mapped out.

On DPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa’s political funds scandal, Tanigaki said he should give sworn testimony before the Diet.

Kan said it is “regrettable” Ozawa still has not offered unsworn testimony before the Lower House political ethics council as he promised last month, noting Ozawa should still explain his stance in the Diet.

LDP executive council chief Yuriko Koike, meanwhile, took Kan to task for damaging Japan’s ties with the United States over the past year or so, which she claimed allowed neighboring countries to take advantage.

“Because of the weakening Japan-U.S. relationship, illegal operations of Chinese fishing boats near the Senkaku Islands became active and led to the visit of Russian President Medvedev to (a disputed Russian-held island),” said Koike. “That is the only way to explain (the two events).”

She also blamed former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s administration for damaging U.S. ties over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corp Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

DPJ deputy policy chief Koriki Jojima also asked questions of the prime minister.

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