Ruling party bigwig Ichiro Ozawa is ratcheting up his criticism of the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda over moves to raise the consumption tax rate.
Ozawa, a former president of the Democratic Party of Japan, says the initiative amounts to a “sacrilegious betrayal” of the people. He has pledged to cast a ballot against the bills for the tax increase when they are put to a vote in the Lower House, presumably on June 21, the last day of the current Diet session.
If he is acting on his political convictions, there is probably no way to stop him.
Considering his own actions and remarks in the past, and the process in which the issue has been debated within the ruling party, Ozawa’s argument against the legislation comes across as riddled with contradictions and is hardly convincing.
How would he answer the following questions, for instance?
Firstly, the policy initiative for integrated tax and social security reform is based on a formal decision by the DPJ made after many rounds of debate within the ruling party.
It is true, as Ozawa says, that the DPJ promised not to raise the consumption tax rate during its campaign for the 2009 Lower House election, which led to the party’s ascent to power.
But Ozawa surely has not forgotten the party leadership election in 2010, in which he himself ran unsuccessfully.
During the election campaign, Ozawa said he would seek an increase in the consumption tax rate only after eliminating wasteful government spending. But he was defeated by Naoto Kan, who pledged to reform both the tax and social security systems and raise the rate at which consumer goods are taxed.
Also, after becoming prime minister, Kan proposed to raise the levy during the Upper House election in the summer of 2010. Although the DPJ suffered a drubbing in the poll, Kan’s integrated reform initiative has been taken over by Noda.
There is nothing wrong with members of a party debating key policy issues heatedly within the confines of the party. If, however, Ozawa intends to lead a rebellion by a group of DPJ members against a policy decision made by the party after extensive and exhaustive debate, he should leave the party along with his followers.
Secondly, Ozawa also says “there are things that must be done” before the tax hike. But why doesn’t he make clear which specific policy proposals he thinks must be carried out first?
The biggest plank on the DPJ’s campaign platform for the 2009 Lower House election was its promise to raise 16.8 trillion yen (about $210 billion) to finance its policy proposals through budget reform and other measures to reduce unnecessary expenditures.
Some three years since the regime change, it is now glaringly obvious that there is no realistic way for the party to deliver on the promise. That’s the principal reason for the party’s decision to pursue integrated tax and social security reform.
Before the DPJ came to power, Ozawa, as party chief, played the central role in developing its election manifesto. At that time, he said the party would be able to raise whatever funds were needed to realize its policy proposals once it took power.
Thirdly, what has happened to the argument for raising the consumption tax that Ozawa himself made repeatedly in the past?
For example, in 1994 the administration headed by Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa announced out of the blue that it intended to introduce a 7-percent “national welfare tax,” an initiative that was cobbled together by none other than Ozawa himself.
The ruling coalition did not debate the proposal before the announcement, which caught even senior lawmakers in the ruling camp off guard as well as the public. Would Ozawa admit that he made a mistake at that time?
The DPJ lawmakers who support Ozawa’s campaign should stop to reflect calmly on all these aspects of this very contentious issue.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 19
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