Opposition digs in against Noda


Staff Writer

Opposition lawmakers grilled Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Thursday over planned social security and tax reforms and his “inability” to keep his party’s campaign pledges, and pressed again for him to call a Lower House election.

Just two days into the current 150-day ordinary Diet session, Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki blasted Noda for breaking a promise to the public in attempting to raise the consumption tax, which was not part of his Democratic Party of Japan’s 2009 campaign platform.

“Noda should first apologize to voters and then dissolve the Lower House for a snap election. (The LDP) is going to openly call on (him) for an election,” Tanigaki told a Lower House plenary session.

Noda is pushing ahead with his reform plans so swiftly that they have deviated from the promises the DPJ made to voters, the LDP leader charged.

Tanigaki flatly refused the DPJ’s latest request to join preliminary reform discussions, complaining that the party’s draft is riddled with problems, including inadequate plans for social safety nets for low-income earners when the tax is increased.

“We’ll wait for the submission of a bill and discuss it openly in front of the public” in the Diet, he said.

The LDP also supports tax hikes but is bidding to return to power by forcing the DPJ to call an election.

Noda’s government approved a plan to raise the 5 percent consumption tax to 8 percent in April 2014 and to 10 percent in October 2015 to cover swelling social security expenses and reconstruct Japan’s battered public finances.

The national debt reached 212.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2011, double the figure of the United States, according to the Finance Ministry. To pass the tax bills in the Diet, the DPJ needs the cooperation of opposition parties, which are in control of the Upper House.

Noda stressed that the need to defuse Japan’s fiscal time bomb goes beyond party lines.

“I think (the reforms) are common issues for the ruling and opposition parties that cannot be avoided or postponed,” he said.

He ruled out the possibility of an early poll. “I want the public to judge after we did everything we could,” Noda said.

Noda also suggested the public has a chance to evaluate the DPJ’s policies before the sales tax is raised. He said a Lower House election will be scheduled after the current term of the chamber’s members expires in August 2013, which is before the tax will be raised to 8 percent.

Noda’s administration plans to submit the tax hike bill in March. He will have to pass many other key bills, including one to trim the number of Lower House seats, the fourth extra budget to finance the Tohoku region’s reconstruction and the ¥90 trillion-plus annual budget for fiscal 2012.