Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Saturday his government remains committed to a plan to complete the doubling of the consumption tax to 10 percent in October 2019 to help restore the nation’s fiscal health.
Abe made the remark on a TV program after reshuffling his Cabinet and key posts in the Liberal Democratic Party on Thursday in a bid to restore his plunging popularity. As usual, he repeated claims that economic revival and fiscal rehabilitation are his government’s main mission.
Under the initial plan, the consumption tax was to be raised to 10 percent from the current 8 percent in October 2015, but Abe has already postponed it twice to try to ensure a solid economic recovery. The levy was originally 5 percent when the two-stage tax hike was implemented.
Japan’s economy is on a moderate recovery track and expanded for a fifth straight quarter in the first quarter of 2017, the longest stretch since six consecutive quarters of growth were logged from January 2005 to June 2006.
He also said on the program that he intends to achieve a primary balance surplus by fiscal 2020 and reduce the ratio of public debt to nominal gross domestic product.
“I would like to steer the economy toward those two goals,” Abe said, indicating he will urge the business community to use retained earnings to raise wages so it will stimulate consumption and lead to a positive cycle in the economy.
Asked about his lifelong quest to rewrite the Constitution, Abe said such proposals should now be formulated by his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Abe also said he will try to involve a wider range of lawmakers, including those from the opposition, in the talks to form a majority by the time his proposal is submitted to the Diet.
“I have caused a stir, but it will be difficult to gain a majority in a referendum unless everybody is on the same page and pushes forward with the plan,” Abe said.
In May, Abe abruptly proposed legitimizing the Self-Defense Forces in the war-renouncing Constitution, which currently makes no mention of them.
His suggestion drew sharp responses from opposition parties that oppose amending the Constitution, especially Article 9, which stipulates that the Japanese people “forever renounce war” and that “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”
The SDF consists of land, sea and air forces.
Abe had said he wants the LDP to submit the proposal during the extra Diet session expected this fall. He is pushing for an amendment by 2020.
But on Thursday, Abe suggested he had backed off the timing for his brash proposal. This followed a plunge in approval ratings for his Cabinet, and the LDP’s crushing defeat in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election last month.
According to the latest Kyodo News poll since Thursday’s reshuffle, the Cabinet’s approval rating has improved by 8.6 points to 44.4 percent.
It also said 53.4 percent of respondents remain opposed to amending the Constitution under Abe and 34.5 percent do not.
The prime minister suggested during the TV program that a general election will not necessarily be required to assess the public’s response to the idea of constitutional revision before the LDP submits the proposal to the Diet.
Revising the Constitution “will be determined by a national referendum. It is different in nature from a law that is enacted by the Diet alone,” he said on the program.
Regarding when the Lower House should be dissolved for a general election, Abe said: “I have absolutely no idea. We have to produce the outcome of economic recovery and regain the trust of the people.”