Kan Says Aiming for 54 or More Seats in July Election

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said his ruling Democratic Party of Japan aims to keep all 54 of its seats that are up for grabs in next month’s elections for the upper house of parliament.

Kan said he will have to seek alliances with other parties should the DPJ and its coalition partner fail to retain its majority on July 11, when half of the chamber’s 242 seats are being contested.

“Maintaining the current number is the first challenge for me,” he said today in a debate with eight other party leaders televised by public broadcaster NHK. “Naturally, I’ll have to talk with various people in various occasions” if the DPJ and ally People’s New Party lose ground.

Kan took office two weeks ago and faces dissention from the PNP, which opposes his intention to raise the 5 percent consumption tax in the next few years to reduce the world’s largest public debt. Party head Shizuka Kamei, who resigned as a member of Kan’s cabinet June 11 in a separate dispute, today reiterated his opposition to the proposal.

“Talking about tax hikes at a time when people’s livelihoods are increasingly difficult shows a lack of understanding about their suffering,” Kamei said.

Mid-Term Referendum

Kan on June 8 replaced Yukio Hatoyama, who quit over money scandals and a broken promise to relocate a U.S. military base on Okinawa. Next month’s mid-term election is the first since the DPJ won the more-powerful lower house in a landslide, ousting the Liberal Democratic Party from more than 50 years of mostly one-party rule.

The DPJ and the PNP have 122 lawmakers in the upper house, while the LDP has 71 and the New Komeito party 21. The Social Democratic Party, which left the ruling coalition in May over the base dispute, holds 5 seats.

Kan rejected the idea of a “grand coalition” between Japan’s two largest parties, saying working with the LDP “should be limited to a given issue” that enabled Japan’s parliament system to function properly. Kan reiterated that he’ll consider the Liberal Democrats’ proposal to double the sales tax to 10 percent in an effort to curb a public debt that is approaching 200 percent of annual economic output.

LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki also expressed reluctance to an alliance with the Democrats.

Kan’s administration had an approval rating of 55 percent in a Yomiuri newspaper survey published yesterday, down from 59 percent last week. Forty-eight percent said they approve of the idea to double the sales tax while 44 percent disapproved. About 32 percent of respondents said they will vote for the DPJ in the next election while 15 percent favored the LDP. New Komeito and Your Party each won 3 percent. The paper surveyed 1,114 people from June 18-20 and didn’t provide a margin of error.

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