The waters have gradually become choppy in the political community, with the time for the government to decide on a bill to raise the consumption tax rate approaching.
An aide to Noda recently asked for the support of a veteran lawmaker of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, who once served in one of its executive posts.
“The prime minister has no intention of backing off the consumption tax,” the aide was quoted as saying. “He is determined to have the bill enacted even if it means severing ties with Ichiro Ozawa. We ask for your cooperation.”
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has staked the life of his administration on the tax hike. Ozawa, a former president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan who wields a strong influence as a power broker, is opposed.
According to the aide’s scenario, Ozawa and other anti-tax hike lawmakers within the DPJ will publicly express opposition when the Cabinet approves the bills related to the tax hike and submits them to the Diet in March.
Although the tax hike opponents are expected to vote against the bills in the Lower House, Noda will bring the legislation up for a vote, ready to expel those lawmakers from the DPJ.
If the bills pass the lower chamber, Noda will seek a vote in the Upper House to have them enacted. If the legislation is rejected, Noda’s Cabinet could resign en masse or the prime minister could dissolve the Lower House for a snap election.
In the Lower House, the DPJ holds 291 seats, compared with a majority of 241. The focus will be whether 50 or so DPJ lawmakers will vote against the bills.
In addition to would-be DPJ rebels, the LDP’s strategy, or the judgment of its president, Sadakazu Tanigaki, will hold the key to the fate of the bills.
Tanigaki has been demanding that the government dissolve the Lower House for an election, saying that the consumption tax hike is a violation of the DPJ’s election manifesto.
If he does not change his stance and opposes the bills, the fate of the legislation in the Lower House will hinge on support within the DPJ. The bills are certain to be defeated in the opposition-controlled Upper House.
What if the LDP decides to support the bills as they are or after revisions? The bills would be passed into law even if some DPJ lawmakers dissent.
In that case, the government must have reached an agreement with the LDP to dissolve the Lower House for an election sometime after the bills become enacted.
With his approval rating on the decline, Noda is fighting a headwind. Given the hard-liners in his party, Tanigaki is finding it difficult to make a compromise with Noda, although he is keenly aware of the need to rebuild public finances.
The crucial stretch continues for the two politicians. “Chemistry” is a word used in English to describe people in such a situation. If they have good chemistry, the two can get along well with each other.
In an interview published in The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 21, Makoto Iokibe, president of the National Defense Academy, said politicians’ “addiction to political change” has resulted in a succession of short-lived governments and hindered progress in policy issues. Iokibe is right in his observation.
The DPJ and the LDP are locked in a battle over the consumption tax hike, which could influence Japan’s fate.
It remains to be seen whether “addiction to political change” will reoccur or whether Noda and Tanigaki will develop chemistry and move to an agreement.
The second Diet debate between the two political leaders, scheduled for Feb. 29, will show in which direction the political world is moving.
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Hiroshi Hoshi is a senior staff writer of The Asahi Shimbun.
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