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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

ANALYSIS

Will shakeup appease opposition?


By NATSUKO FUKUE and JUN HONGO
Staff writers

Designed to draw the opposition camp into talks on raising the consumption tax, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's minor Cabinet reshuffle Monday may not be enough to appease all his opponents, analysts say.

News photo
On the defense: Satoshi Morimoto, named Monday as the new defense minister, is surrounded by reporters at the prime minister's office. SATOKO KAWASAKI

"How Noda handles those within his own party opposing the tax hike remains to be seen," Yasuharu Ishizawa, a professor of politics and media at Gakushuin Women's College, told The Japan Times.

Noda also needs the opposition camp, centering on the Liberal Democratic Party, to back his goal, which won't be easy.

"Noda might have solved some of the issues (by replacing the ministers) only to find another set of problems on his hands," Ishizawa said.

Noda's second Cabinet reshuffle in less than five months is a rare move, especially as it comes during a Diet session, and underscores the mounting desperation of his administration.

The LDP and New Komeito, the two largest opposition parties, have resisted Noda's repeated calls to double the 5 percent sales tax by 2015 to cover snowballing social security expenses, demanding that censured ministers be replaced before talks on the bill could begin. Those ministers are now out.

While Monday's Cabinet reshuffle puts the ball in the opposition's court, Noda's acquiescence to their demand could quickly backfire.

Although LDP Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara told reporters Monday his party is ready to hold talks, Ishizawa of Gakushuin Women's College believes the LDP is already signaling it will press Noda harder to dissolve the Diet for a snap election.

"The LDP is raising the bar," the expert said, noting the opposition camp could make further demands, such as insisting that Noda's Democratic Party of Japan replace some of its proposed social security reforms with its own.

Noda is also running out of time to seal the deal on the consumption tax before the Diet recesses on June 21. He is slated to attend a G-20 meeting in Mexico on June 18, which means the Lower House must vote on the bill no later than June 15.

But bargaining with the opposition could end up creating more dissension within the DPJ.

In two meetings within the past five days, Noda failed to win over DPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa to his tax bill. Found not guilty of falsifying his political funds reports last month, Ozawa has regained his pull within the party. He informed reporters after both meetings that he remains opposed to the tax hike.

Even with Ozawa's backing, Noda needs the opposition camp's cooperation to pass the consumption tax bill since the DPJ lacks a majority in the Upper House.

But the split within the DPJ could widen into a chasm if Noda rushes headlong into negotiations with the LDP and New Komeito.

Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University, said the situation could become untenable, leaving Noda no choice but to call an election.

Yet it's unclear if Noda can play this trump card as he pleases. "Noda might want to dissolve the Diet to get the tax hike bill passed, but those around him might not agree with the idea," Nakano said.

Even though the opposition parties, at least on the surface, continue to press Noda to call a poll, they don't appear ready to face the voters.

"(Dissolving the Diet) might happen by default," Nakano said.

Regarding the new members of the Cabinet, Nakano praised the appointment of the first private citizen to head the Defense Ministry, Takushoku University professor Satoshi Morimoto.

Morimoto "has a career in defense and diplomacy," he said. "This is a clever selection, one the opposition will have a difficult time criticizing."



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