Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s proposal to double the country’s consumption tax by 2015 faces growing public skepticism as the main opposition party ramps up its call for elections over the issue.
Sixty percent of voters oppose the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s plan to raise the 5 percent tax in two stages to 10 percent, a Mainichi newspaper poll today said. Noda’s approval rating fell to 32 percent from 38 percent last month and has dropped 24 percentage points since September, when he became Japan’s sixth leader in five years, the survey showed.
The decline in popularity follows the pattern of his five predecessors, all of whom took office with more than 50 percent approval only to see it plummet within a year. Noda is seeking to raise revenue to shore up the social welfare system amid discontent over a struggling economy, the world’s largest debt and the pace of recovery from last year’s earthquake and nuclear disaster.
“There’s a whole laundry list of things that need urgent attention and there’s no evidence progress is being made because of gridlock,” said Jeff Kingston, head of the Asian Studies program at Temple University’s Tokyo campus. “The honeymoon never lasts very long. It doesn’t look good for Noda.”
Sadakazu Tanigaki, head of the Liberal Democratic Party that governed Japan for half a century until ousted in 2009, yesterday pledged to force Noda to dissolve the Lower House of parliament this year. The LDP, which campaigned during the 2010 Upper House election on raising the consumption tax, has refused to negotiate with Noda on the issue.
Tanigaki yesterday at the LDP’s annual convention called for a “final battle” to pressure Noda into calling for a snap election.
Neither of Japan’s biggest parties has broad public support. The DPJ’s approval rating is at 17 percent, while the LDP’s is at 16 percent, according to the Mainichi poll. The paper surveyed 1,014 households on Jan. 21 and 22 and provided no margin of error.
The poll came less than two weeks after Noda named former Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada deputy premier to lead the push to raise the consumption tax to 8 percent in April 2014 and 10 percent in October 2015 to help pay for soaring welfare costs as the population ages. Nine DPJ lawmakers left the party in revolt.
Okada yesterday rejected the suggestion that Noda should go to the voters before working to pass the tax legislation through parliament. The DPJ holds a majority in the lower house, while the upper house is controlled by opposition lawmakers.
“Decisions have to be made,” Okada said on Fuji Television. “There is no time for an election.”
Noda is the DPJ’s third prime minister since the party took control of the government in September 2009. Yukio Hatoyama took office that month with approval ratings of more than 70 percent, then saw them plunge to below 20 percent due to a dispute with the U.S. on whether to relocate an American military base on Okinawa as well as financial scandals. His successor, Naoto Kan, had the support of two-thirds of the electorate before dissatisfaction over the handling of the March 11 earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster pushed his rating to below 20 percent as well.