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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

DPJ tax rebels stand ground; Noda wavers on penalties


By MASAMI ITO and NATSUKO FUKUE
Staff writer

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and the leadership of his ruling Democratic Party of Japan made a last-ditch attempt Monday to win back allies of rival Ichiro Ozawa, who are bent on rejecting the contentious tax hike bill in Tuesday's vote.

At a Lower House Diet committee meeting Monday morning, Noda acknowledged differences of opinion within the DPJ but called for unity after over a year of discussion on the matter.

"We approved the (tax hike bill) as a party. . . . I will take responsibility and try till the very end to make sure that the DPJ can (vote for the bill) together," Noda said.

Ozawa group insiders have expressed confidence that they can get about 60 DPJ members to vote against Noda's key legislation to double the consumption tax to 10 percent by October 2015. Most recently, former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama also revealed he would reject the related bills.

There is little chance such opposition will matter. Most of the DPJ, as well as the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, are expected to approve the bills in the Lower House Tuesday.

Noda's main concern is the threat that his opponents will quit and form a new party with Ozawa. If the "rebels" can get at least 54 members to bolt, the DPJ-Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) coalition would lose its majority in the Lower House, making it extremely difficult for Noda to pass legislation.

According to Kyodo News, more than 40 Ozawa loyalists have given notice of their intention to leave the DPJ. Meanwhile, some, including Hatoyama, have said they will remain in the DPJ despite their stance against the bills. It is still unclear how many are ready to quit the ruling party.

Noda refused to comment on a suggestion by LDP Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara at Monday's meeting that the DPJ will force out rebellious members as punishment. While some in the DPJ are advocating punishment, others are calling for leniency to keep the party from splintering.

"Now is not the time to talk about what will happen after the voting. I'll do my best to unify members to vote for the bills," Noda said.

Earlier this month, the LDP and New Komeito agreed to support the DPJ's bid for a tax hike in exchange for its shelving of various welfare pledges. But the bills stalled as the DPJ's executives struggled to gain a consensus within the party.

On Monday, LDP members criticized Noda for failing to rally support in his party for the contentious bills and pressured him to dissolve the Lower House as soon as they are enacted.

Noda, however, said he will dissolve the Lower House for a snap election only after he has achieved his goals.

"There will be deliberations on the bills in the Upper House too. I have many other things I need to do and I will seek the public's judgement once everything is done," he said.



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