Sadakazu Tanigaki, the leader of Japan’s largest opposition party, is in a bind.
With his presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party up for grabs in a party election this September, he is under intense pressure to deliver what his lawmakers crave for most: power.
Staying in the post will be difficult if Tanigaki backs away from his key political demand, hammered home in statement after statement for months, that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan must immediately dissolve the Lower House and hold a snap election.
Tanigaki’s problem is that the chances of the coveted election appear to be receding rather than improving. Recent statements by DPJ lawmakers indicate that a glimmer of hope that the Noda administration might be willing to negotiate the point in exchange for cooperation on key legislation may about to be extinguished.
Tanigaki said in April that he and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda enjoyed "good chemistry" but, less than a month later, his confidence in the relationship is under strain.
The LDP president’s basic position remains that he would consider supporting the bill to raise the consumption tax rate, a piece of legislation which faces considerable opposition from within the DPJ, if Noda promises to dissolve the Lower House.
Tanigaki and Noda, both former finance ministers, believe it is necessary to raise taxes to rebuild Japan’s public finances.
However, Tanigaki now suspects that Noda will not be able to contain growing opposition within the DPJ to an early Lower House dissolution.
On May 11, DPJ Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi parachuted into the issue with the five words: “A twin election is desirable.” That suggested the Lower House should not be dissolved until summer 2013 when the Upper House election is scheduled and, therefore, appeared to trample on Tanigaki’s snap election hopes.
Significantly, Noda has not done anything to keep Koshiishi in line on the issue.
Tanigaki had earlier turned down a request from Noda for a one-on-one meeting in early May to discuss the consumption tax hike because he questioned Noda’s ability to deliver what the LDP wants.
Noda’s request was conveyed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura to a lawmaker close to Tanigaki in late April. However, Tanigaki and other LDP executives concluded that the party had nothing to gain from the proposed meeting because Noda was not expected to accept the LDP’s call for an early election given the growing opposition within the DPJ, LDP sources said.
Another point of contention is Noda’s refusal to replace two Cabinet ministers against whom the opposition-controlled Upper House has passed censure motions.
On a TV program on May 16, Tanigaki compared Noda to the naked monarch in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” story, saying he could not cooperate with a prime minister who could not bring other DPJ lawmakers with him.
Tanigaki recently told an aide: “I cannot tell how serious Noda is about the consumption tax hike.”
The two secretly met on Feb. 25 to discuss the consumption tax, and at that meeting Tanigaki demanded the Lower House be dissolved in exchange for his support. Noda refused.
Many LDP lawmakers believe that Koshiishi’s “twin election” remark has further dimmed the chances of a Lower House election in the near future.
That puts Tanigaki in a quandary because he may now have to decide what position to take on the consumption tax if he cannot deliver the snap election to his own lawmakers.
“A dissolution will be unlikely,” an LDP executive said. “We have no choice but to support the consumption tax hike if the government accepts the LDP’s social security reform proposal as it is.”
Makoto Koga, a former secretary-general, said Tanigaki should not demand the Lower House be dissolved as a condition for supporting the consumption tax hike.
“We need to have a proper discussion on taxes to recapture power,” Koga said on a TV program on May 14. “We cannot fulfill our responsibility if we maintain that we cannot (support the tax hike) unless certain conditions are met.”
During the May 16 TV program, Tanigaki said he still harbored hopes of negotiating the snap election.
“Noda has said he will stake his political life on the consumption tax hike,” Tanigaki said. “I want to believe him.”
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