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Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008

LDP election chief cool to near-term campaign


By MASAMI ITO and KAZUAKI NAGATA
Staff writers

The Liberal Democratic Party needs more time to promote its policies before entertaining any idea of a Lower House election, the chairman of the LDP Election Strategy Council indicated Tuesday.

Noting that Lower House members' terms end in September 2009 and an election could be held anytime between now and then, Makoto Koga said: "Some people say (an election is) within range, and I agree. But to eradicate public anxiety and paint a better picture for the future, I think we need a little more time."

Before Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda reshuffled his Cabinet on Friday, Koga said an election was approaching, possibly by the end of this year or early next year.

But in a speech Sunday in Fukuoka Prefecture, he indicated the election would probably not be called until near the end of the Lower House lawmakers' term.

"I don't think I changed (my position) drastically," Koga said. "It depends on the situation of the times."

Koga was re-elected as LDP election chief on Friday.

Friction between the LDP and its junior partner in the ruling bloc, New Komeito, has been in the spotlight recently.

New Komeito, backed by Soka Gakkai, Japan's largest lay Buddhist organization, has shown reluctance toward the LDP's bid to extend the antiterrorism law to allow the Maritime Self-Defense Force to continue its Indian Ocean refueling mission.

New Komeito meanwhile has been posturing for an earlier general election because an election for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly — Soka Gakkai's home ground — will take place next summer.

"It is certain we have a solid, trusting relationship," Koga said. "We are the ruling party and government — that means we share policies and elections, and we will discuss ways on how to deepen our trusting relationship and how to cooperate with each other to win the battle."

Koga said that if a general election is not held until September 2009, the ruling bloc can focus mainly on firm economic policies to alleviate public anxiety amid the current downturn.

Another key issue for the ruling bloc is debate over whether to raise the 5 percent consumption tax. The topic has been growing since Fukuda appointed Kaoru Yosano, an advocate of a tax hike, as the new economic and fiscal policy chief.

Kosuke Hori, new head of the LDP Policy Research Council, said it is hard to secure the financial resources for raising the government's contribution to the pension system from a third to half without raising the consumption tax in 2009.

The public is unaware of how high sales taxes are in other countries, Hori said, pointing out it was 17 percent when he worked in France.

"From an international standpoint, frankly, I think 5 percent is low," he said.

Takashi Sasagawa, new chairman of the LDP General Council, said it is crucial for the government to build public trust in the tax system, including explaining how taxes are levied in other countries, such as Sweden and Denmark, where they are generally considered high.

"Without that, it is wrong to discuss how much we should raise to gain (the needed) amount," he said.



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