Japanese opposition grills Prime Minister Kishida in Diet over tax hike plan

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Japan’s opposition bloc stepped up its offensive against Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday over his government’s plan to raise taxes to boost defense spending, arguing the decision was made without sufficient parliamentary debate.

In the first full-fledged debate since the regular parliamentary session began Monday, Kishida merely reiterated his mantra that he will “continue to explain his policies politely” to the public, being harassed by opposition lawmakers.

Kenta Izumi (front), head of Japan’s main opposition constitutional democratic party, speaks at a plenary session of the House of Representatives in parliament on Jan. 25, 2023. (TBEN)

In December, the Kishida administration decided to nearly double its defense spending over the next five years and acquire enemy base attacks to deter attacks, in a major shift in its security policy amid rising regional military threats.

The government has also stated its intention to raise business, income and tobacco taxes in fiscal 2024 or later to secure about 1 trillion yen ($7.7 billion) annually to bolster the country’s defense capabilities.

The opposition camp has criticized Kishida, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, for making such important decisions after last year’s extraordinary Diet session, which concluded early last month.

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In the plenary session of the lower house, Kenta Izumi, head of Japan’s main constitutional democratic opposition party, urged Kishida to dissolve the House of Representatives for snap elections to get a popular mandate if he wants to push for the tax hike .

Izumi described Kishida’s decision as “reckless” as he asked the prime minister whether attack capabilities could be a “pre-emptive” approach that violates international law.

Known as a meek moderate, Kishida stressed that Japan will abide by global rules and said the capabilities will be used as the “minimum defense steps” to protect the nation from missile strikes by its enemies.

Regarding the costs intended to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities, Kishida expressed his willingness to “make every effort” to reduce other expenditures to reduce the public burden as much as possible, even after the government lifts the charges. raised.

Kishida also said he will “judge appropriately” when to call an early election. According to the Constitution, a prime minister has the final say on the dissolution of the lower house.

Current four-year terms for members of the lower house will expire in October 2025 unless Kishida dissolves the chamber.

During the 150-day session through June 21, opposition parties wanted to take on Kishida over issues such as an extension of the maximum service period for nuclear reactors and child policy, which he has promised would be a priority.

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It remains uncertain how his administration would cover the costs of implementing measures to facilitate the education of children, prompting concerns in Japan that Kishida would implement a politically unpopular consumption tax hike.

On the macroeconomic front, Kishida pledged that the government will work with the Bank of Japan to deliver growth and price stability along with wage increases that have shown little sign of strong increases for decades.

However, Kishida avoided commenting on his choice of successor to incumbent BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, who is expected to end his 10-year career on April 8. The central bank chief has pursued aggressive monetary easing to counter deflation.

The government will nominate the “most appropriate” figure in light of the economic situation, Kishida said, though he did not specify whether he would tap a candidate likely to reverse Kuroda’s monetary policy stance.

He also declined to comment on whether or not to revise the decade-old government-BOJ deal, in which the central bank committed to meeting an inflation target of 2 percent “as soon as possible”.

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Kishida has said his government will submit its choice of Kuroda’s successor to parliament next month.

On diplomacy, Kishida said he will consider visiting Ukraine, which has been invaded by Russia since February 2022, for talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy if the right conditions are met.

“Nothing has been decided at the moment, but we will consider” whether to visit Ukraine “with due regard to various circumstances,” Kishida said, after LDP secretary-general Toshimitsu Motegi asked him to follow the example of leaders of the follow other countries.

While Kishida was eager to make a trip to Ukraine as chair of the Group of Seven summit in May in Hiroshima, a Japanese government official said it could be difficult to arrange his visit to the Eastern European state for security reasons.

At the G-7 meeting, Kishida, a lawmaker representing a constituency in the city in western Japan, plans to set out his vision of a nuclear-free world, amid fears that Russia might drop a nuclear bomb against Ukraine. could use in the ongoing war.

Hiroshima was destroyed in August 1945 by an American atomic bomb.

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