Support for Noda Government Drops After Party Split on Tax

Support for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s cabinet fell to 28 percent, after his party split earlier this month over the passing of legislation that will double the consumption tax.

The five point drop from June, in a poll published by the Nikkei newspaper and TV Tokyo, means support for Noda’s administration matches a low it reached in May. Approval for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan slid 8 points to 18 percent.

Noda, who pushed the sales tax measure through the Diet’s lower house last month in an effort to tackle Japan’s record debt, faces re-election as leader of his party in September. Opposition leader Sadakazu Tanigaki, who backs the sales tax plan, increased the pressure on Noda last week when he said he would submit a no-confidence motion if the ruling party backpedals on the plan to double the tax by 2015.

The drop in support for the Democrats didn’t translate into a boost for the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which was favored by 27 percent of respondents, almost unchanged from the previous poll conducted in June, the Nikkei said.

The bill to raise the consumption tax to 8 percent in 2014 and to 10 percent in 2015 from the current 5 percent passed the lower house in June, prompting former Democratic party leader Ichiro Ozawa to leave with about 50 of his followers and set up a new party. The debate over the tax continues in the upper house, where the bill is likely to pass even though Noda lacks a majority because the proposal also has the backing of the LDP.

Poll Boost

Enacting the bill may give Noda and the Democrats a boost in the polls, according to Steven R. Reed, a professor of political science at Chuo University in Tokyo.

“People want a government that can do something, rather than a government that keeps putting things off,” Reed said by phone. “Getting something done will, I think, be more important than what you get done.”

Some opponents of the tax bill, including former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who set up a group to study changes to the legislation, have remained with the Democratic party.

Tanigaki said in an interview last week that if the DPJ modifies the sales tax plan “to please members of the ruling party, we are more likely to tell them to forget the whole thing than to say OK.” At that point a no-confidence motion would be “possible,” he said.

The Nikkei said the poll showed 49 percent of respondents were opposed to the tax increase, while 41 percent said they were in favor. Support for Ozawa’s new party was one percent.

Nuclear Power

On nuclear power, another issue that divides Japan’s electorate, 49 percent of respondents said it should be kept to a minimum, and 27 percent said it should be abandoned. A further 19 percent said nuclear reactors should be restarted after being approved as safe.

Renewable energy advocate Tetsunari Iida failed yesterday in a bid to become governor of Yamaguchi prefecture in western Japan, losing out to a former bureaucrat who promised to suspend, rather than abandon, plans for a new nuclear plant in the region.

The Nikkei survey included 929 respondents and was carried out by telephone from July 27-29.

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