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Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010

Hatoyama spars with opposition

Staff writer

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, during his first one-on-one debate against opposition party leaders, was forced Wednesday to fend off criticism over the money scandals dogging his administration.

Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki grilled Hatoyama over his receipt of huge sums from his mother, the heiress to the Bridgestone tire empire, and allegations that Democratic Party of Japan kingpin Ichiro Ozawa's fund body violated the Political Funds Control Law.

"You've been dubbed the king of tax evasion in the Heisei Era — and that's making the public feel foolish about paying their own taxes," Tanigaki charged. "It's tragicomic that you're the one ultimately responsible for collecting taxes."

Tanigaki urged Hatoyama to take the initiative in questioning his mother over the circumstances involving the shady donations.

Hatoyama, who reportedly had several late nights preparing for the faceoff, said he did not intend to question his mother and claimed believes he has fulfilled his responsibility by paying gift taxes and apologizing to the public.

"I understand that many in the public are not fully satisfied with my explanation, but I repeat that I've been telling the truth" regarding the scandal, Hatoyama said amid jeering from the opposition camp.

Tanigaki also requested that the Diet call Ozawa, as well as a former Hatoyama secretary, for questioning over their involvement in the various money scandals.

Hatoyama responded that such moves will have to be decided in Diet deliberations.

The scandals over shady funds involving the prime minister and Ozawa have taken a heavy toll on the Cabinet's approval ratings, with a survey by Jiji Press earlier this month showing that 44.7 percent of the respondents disapprove of the administration, an increase of 11.4 percentage points from the previous survey and exceeding the approval rate, 35.7 percent, for the first time.

Questioned by Tanigaki over his stance on a consumption tax hike, Hatoyama said he does not intend to raise the levy in the next four years, which is the latest the next Lower House poll must be held.

After Tanigaki, New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi asked the government set up a consultation body involving both ruling and opposition parties on revising the Political Funds Control Law.

Hatoyama responded positively to the idea, saying the DPJ "agrees to setting up such a body."

The ruling coalition, which has been focusing on deliberating the fiscal 2010 budget, has been suffering internal disarray on several fronts, including the contentious issue of relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan, Okinawa.

Reiterating his previous stance, Hatoyama said during the debate he will "definitely solve the Futenma issue by May, which will in turn strengthen Japan-U.S. ties."

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The Japan Times

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