Campaigning has kicked off for the April 27 Lower House by-election in the Yamaguchi No. 2 constituency. The poll will have a great impact on the Diet struggle between the ruling and opposition forces over such issues as the gasoline and other road-related taxes, medical services and pensions. It will also affect the fate of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s government and that of Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

The duel in Yamaguchi between a Liberal Democratic Party candidate and a DPJ candidate follows the expiration of the extra rates on the gasoline and other road-related taxes at the end of March. This has led to lowering of gasoline prices nationwide. The expiration of the “temporary” surcharges occurred because the opposition forces controlling the Upper House prevented the ruling bloc from passing a measure to retain the high rates from April.

If the DPJ candidate wins, the opposition party can argue that people support the abolition of the surcharges. If the ruling bloc reintroduces the surcharges by passing a related bill a second time in the Lower House with a two-thirds majority, the DPJ can introduce a censure motion against Mr. Fukuda with greater justification than if it loses the by-election. The party hopes that the censure motion will cause political turmoil and lead to a dissolution of the Lower House. But a loss in the by-election will weaken Mr. Ozawa’s position in the DPJ, which is poised to assail the LDP over the pension fiasco and the poorly implemented new health insurance scheme for elderly people.

The LDP is attacking the DPJ by saying that the termination of the surcharges means a loss in tax revenue for the Yamaguchi prefectural governments and municipal governments in the prefecture. But it avoids mentioning the government and ruling camp’s plan to reintroduce the surcharges.

Both parties must realize that voters want to see them launch concrete plans for a reasonable tax system and a viable social welfare system, not emotional attacks on each other.

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