Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Wednesday held his first debate in the Diet with Liberal Democratic Party leader Sadakazu Tanigaki and with Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi. Although the LDP and Komeito had cooperated with the Democratic Party of Japan in passing the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 and related bills to fund reconstruction from the March 11 disasters, Mr. Tanigaki showed a confrontational stance toward the prime minister.

At the outset of the debate, Mr. Noda was placed on the defensive because of the controversial statement by the chief of the Okinawa Defense Bureau. The statement made with regard to the government plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Air Station Futenma from Ginowan on Okinawa Island to Henoko, on the same island, showed contempt for women and the Okinawan people.

Mr. Noda apologized for the bureaucrat’s statement. He stressed that the relocation plan is designed to reduce the burden on Okinawan people. But Mr. Noda fails to understand Okinawan people’s feeling that anything short of moving the Futenma functions outside Okinawa Prefecture discriminates against them.

Mr. Tanigaki assailed Mr. Noda on the issue of Japan’s participation in the talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade scheme. He criticized the government for not disclosing sufficient information about the TPP; Mr. Noda accepted his criticism. For the sake of meaningful public discussions on the TPP, the government should make public detailed information as soon as possible and name specific national interests Japan should protect in future TPP talks. It also should work out strategies to achieve Japan’s goals. Mr. Tanigaki proposed to set up a special Diet committee to discuss the TPP. Mr. Noda should accept his proposal.

Mr. Noda asked Mr. Tanigaki to cooperate with the DPJ in Diet deliberations on a bill to raise the consumption tax rate. But Mr. Tanigaki said that Mr. Noda should dissolve the Lower House for a snap election before submitting the bill. Yet, in the 2010 Upper House election campaign, it was the LDP that proposed raising the tax rate to 10 percent to pay for social welfare — almost the same idea now proposed by the Noda administration.

Both parties should consider whether it is appropriate to raise the tax in the near future if current economic conditions persist.

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