National / Politics

Party chiefs clash over tax and Japan's Constitution before Upper House election

Kyodo

The leaders of major political parties faced off in a debate Sunday over the planned consumption tax hike and the pacifist Constitution, ahead of the start of official campaigning this week for the Upper House election.

In response to criticism from all five opposition party leaders, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said during an online debate that there was no change in the plan to raise consumption tax from 8 percent to 10 percent in October.

“The consumption tax hike is necessary as a stable revenue source” for the government’s plan to provide free education and child care programs, said Abe, who is president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In the first debate among party leaders ahead of the July 21 election, Yuichiro Tamaki of the Democratic Party for the People said the consumption tax increase should be suspended unless tepid consumer spending picks up.

Yukio Edano of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan echoed the view, saying that the economy needs to be put on “a full-fledged recovery track by expanding household spending.”

Abe also sought to brush aside concern about the reliability of the public pension system, after a controversial report by a government panel drew public attention recently. The report estimated that the average retired couple would face a shortfall of ¥20 million ($185,000) under the current pension system if they live to be 95 years old.

“We will improve the economy so that (the country) will get out of deflation” to secure pension funding, he said.

Among other key issues during the debate was the future of the pacifist Constitution, as Abe has repeatedly expressed hope to rewrite the war-renouncing Article 9 of the top law in 2020.

“Do you believe the public is hoping for constitutional revision? Many do not,” said Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii.

Nippon Ishin no Kai head Ichiro Matsui, who serves as mayor of the city of Osaka and is not a member of the Diet, said more Diet panel sessions should be held to promote debate on revising the Constitution.

The ruling bloc of the LDP and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, which is headed by Natsuo Yamaguchi, currently does not have the two-thirds majority in the upper chamber necessary to initiate a national referendum on constitutional revision.