Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is leaning toward the main opposition party for cooperation on raising the consumption tax rate after failing to win the support of ruling party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa.
Noda has told senior officials of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to speed up discussions with opposition parties on amedning tax hike bills to have a Lower House vote, sources said.
In a May 30 meeting with Ozawa, who staunchly opposes a consumption tax hike, Noda said the bill must be voted on during the current Diet session, which closes on June 21. Ozawa, who leads the largest intraparty group, refused to relent.
DPJ Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi and other senior party officials confirmed a policy on May 31 to seek discussions with opposition parties on amending seven bills related to Noda’s proposal to double the consumption tax rate to 10 percent by 2015.
“Both the lower and upper chambers must pass the bills during the current Diet session,” Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada told a special Lower House committee deliberating the bills the same day. “We want to take a vote after winning approval from (the Liberal Democratic Party).”
The LDP, the largest opposition party, appeared ready to go along.
Senior LDP officials, including Secretary-General Nobuteru Ishihara, agreed on May 31 to cooperate with Diet deliberations and have Noda call for a vote.
They told DPJ officials that the LDP will sit for discussions to amend the bills if Koshiishi makes clear that a vote will be taken by June 15.
But it remains uncertain if Noda can call for a vote, given the strong opposition within the DPJ.
In a TV program on the night of May 30, Ozawa reiterated his opposition to the tax hike.
An aide to Noda also said there are no strategies to clinch an agreement with the LDP.
Only about three weeks remain before the current Diet session closes. Deliberations on the bills will amount to 100 hours, which Noda has said will be long enough to ask for a vote.
Diet members close to Noda gathered at the prime minister’s office on the night of May 29 to discuss possible scenarios following the Noda-Ozawa meeting.
They called for Noda to clearly part ways with Ozawa and seek cooperation from the LDP and New Komeito on the tax hike bills by replacing two Cabinet ministers against whom the opposition-controlled Upper House passed censure motions.
An aide to Noda said the prime minister had planned to send a message to the LDP, through the meeting with Ozawa, that he would hold fast to his tax hike proposal. But Noda never set the record straight during the 90-minute meeting. He even suggested that he might meet with Ozawa again.
One reason appears to be that the meeting was arranged by Koshiishi, who has been calling for intra-party reconciliation. Koshiishi also attended the meeting.
Noda could not have Koshiishi lose face by breaking away with Ozawa in his presence. A confrontation with Koshiishi could also undermine the prime minister’s power base within the DPJ.
After the meeting, Noda told reporters that he “exchanged opinions” with Ozawa.
Senior LDP officials, who have urged Noda to call for a vote despite Ozawa’s opposition, initially expressed disappointment because he did not serve an ultimatum to Ozawa during the meeting.
“Is the prime minister serious about what he is supposed to do,” Ishihara told reporters on May 30. “He said, ‘I was able to exchange opinions frankly,’ as if it were someone else’s business. Now is not the time to exchange opinions.”
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