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Monday, Jan. 5, 2009
Aso: No election until budget passes
By MASAMI ITO
Prime Minister Taro Aso said Sunday that the fiscal 2009 budget is his top priority and he won't dissolve the Diet until the budget and related bills make it through the Diet.
Aso, holding his first news conference of the year, also reiterated the government's pledge to raise the unpopular consumption tax in three years if the economic conditions will allow it.
"It is clear that what we need to do is quickly implement economic measures," Aso told reporters at the prime minister's office. "First of all, we must have the budget and related bills pass immediately — I will not consider a dissolution until then."
Aso has decided to convene this year's ordinary Diet session Monday, an unusually early date, to secure the quick passage of the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008, and the budget for fiscal 2009 and related bills, which are all key components of the government's measures to tackle the recession.
Aso said he intends to raise the consumption tax to cover snowballing social security costs.
"In Japan, to continue providing the current mid-level social welfare services, we must ask the public to bear a mid-level financial burden," he said. "And that is why I have said I will seek to raise the consumption tax once the economy recovers."
Ordinary Diet sessions usually convene in late January, but the Aso government believes that an early start is necessary to enact the budget-related bills ahead of the tight political schedule expected later in the year.
With the current term of the House of Representatives ending in September, the prime minister must find the best timing for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito bloc to call an election.
But with the support rate sinking for Aso and his Cabinet, critics say there is a strong possibility the LDP could lose power to the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force.
And now, after just three months of leadership, there have been reports that there is grumbling within the ruling bloc that they cannot fight and win the next election with Aso at the head.
Still, Aso emphasized that he will take the initiative in deciding the timing for the election.
"The prime minister has the ultimate right to decide when to dissolve the Lower House — and therefore Taro Aso will decide," he said.
Last month, former administrative reform minister Yoshimi Watanabe rebelled and voted for a motion submitted to the Diet by the DPJ urging Aso to dissolve the Lower House.