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Thursday, May 1, 2008

LDP gets drivers' ire for gas hikes

As extra tax rates are reinstated, consumers are swift to blame the ruling camp

Staff writers

Angry motorists swiftly slammed the government's decision Wednesday to reinstate provisional extra tax rates on gasoline, with some calling the imminent price hike a "terrible act" and others criticizing Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda for his strong-arm political tactics.

News photo
Last call: Car owners line up at a gas station in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, to top off their tanks Wednesday before an extra gasoline tax passed by the ruling coalition is reinstated. SATOKO KAWSAKI PHOTO

"Someone has to take responsibility for all the confusion regarding gas prices," a 48-year-old man waiting at a gasoline station in Minato Ward, Tokyo, said.

The driver, who only gave his last name, Kozaka, was waiting behind four other cars to fill up his Honda minivan. The price at that station was ¥126 per liter but could go as high as ¥160 once the additional tax rates are reinstated.

"The (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party had nothing going for it, including the pension fiasco and the price rises on food. The gas tax hike is the final blow and now I can't come up with a reason to vote for the LDP even if I tried," Kozaka said.

The extra rates on gasoline and other auto-related taxes will raise prices at the pump in a matter of days to weeks as the newly taxed gas makes its way to filling stations across Japan.

Prices are projected to rise to about ¥160 per liter, up by more than ¥30 at some gas stations.

Discontent toward lawmakers appeared to be spreading to the oil industry as well.

An official at a company that runs four gas stations in Fukui Prefecture blamed lawmakers on both sides of the issue.

"I think the fault lies with both (the LDP and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan)," said the official, who wished to remain anonymous.

He said his company will raise prices starting May 3, since it cut prices on April 3.

The expiration of the road tax had been anticipated for years. Some oil and auto-related groups collected petitions and asked lawmakers not to increase the tax rate about 3 1/2 years ago, the official said.

"In the end, the politicians didn't do anything until the last minute," the official said.

A sales manager at a company in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, that runs 10 gas stations in Tokyo and Chiba and Saitama prefectures said he was disillusioned with politics.

"After all, this incident from April to May is, I guess, bad politics. The private sector was victimized by this whole political charade that just tried to secure (lawmakers') benefit," said the sales manager, who also declined to be named.

Customers have flocked to get gasoline at reasonable prices in the last few days before the coming tax hike, he said.

In contrast to the beginning of April, when a lot of gasoline was left in stock before the price cut, gas stations hardly have any stock this time, he said, adding his company will raise prices starting Thursday.

He said the company had a tough time in April securing funds to cover all the complications caused by the tax turmoil.

He said voters are angry about the political chaos.

"I think voters in Yamaguchi represented the national voters' opinions," he said, referring to Sunday's Lower House by-election in Yamaguchi Prefecture, in which the DPJ candidate won. "But (the LDP) does not seem to be sorry."

Kenji Kaneda, a 41-year-old resident of Hiroshima Prefecture, said that added tax revenues could help local governments improve roads, which are "not given proper maintenance in minor cities."

But Kaneda, who is a member of a motorcycle touring group, said many of the members of his group fear that the reinstatement of the extra gas tax will seriously limit their hobby of biking around Kyushu and Shikoku.

"Roads need to be maintained, but as a consumer, cheaper gas is always better. Our members are now desperately exchanging information about cheaper gas stations," to get the best deals he said.

Although Kaneda said that he does not favor the LDP because of the complexity surrounding the extra gas tax, he added that the DPJ does not deserve his backing either because it has not made a valid counterproposal on the issue.

"This is not a question of favoring one party over the other," Kaneda said, explaining that the public is being left to cope with gas price instability while the two parties battle it out for political supremacy.

"I wish there was a negative vote against the government as a whole. If elections were held tomorrow, that's where my ballot would go," Kaneda said.

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The Japan Times

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