The government should remove a 10 percent sales tax to revive an economy dragged down by the coronavirus pandemic, a ruling party lawmaker close to Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Thursday, expressing a view that may gain traction as the country's recession deepens.
Hiroshi Ando is among a group of junior Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers proposing that Japan get rid of the sales tax and directly subsidize firms to prevent business closures.
Ando said the government's decision to raise the sales tax rate to 10 percent from 8 percent last October was a "clear mistake" because the economy was already in a downturn by then.
"We need to revive the economy by pushing the sales tax rate back to zero," he said on Thursday. "It's absolutely essential that Japan eliminate the tax altogether."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration has rebuffed the idea of rolling back the sales tax.
But the rare direct rebuke from a ruling party lawmaker underscores a growing concern within the LDP over the damage the pandemic is inflicting on the economy and Abe's popularity.
Support rate for Abe's administration hit a record low 35.4 percent in a poll by broadcaster TBS released on Monday, reflecting people's dissatisfaction over its handling of the pandemic.
When Ando's group made the proposal in March, it had the ears of Abe, who told parliament he "took note of calls from junior LDP officials to take drastic action on the sales tax."
"We'll take sufficient action quickly as the pandemic would have a significant impact on the economy," Abe added.
Abe had proceeded with a twice-delayed sales tax hike to 10 percent in October, arguing that the proceeds are crucial to pay for rising social welfare costs of a rapidly aging population.