Japan PM signals election can wait, defies opposition
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda made clear on Monday he is in no rush to go to the polls, speaking of unfinished business and the risk of a “political vacuum” in a speech likely to anger the opposition, which has been urging him to keep a promise to call an election soon.
Speaking on the eve of a review of monetary policy by the Bank of Japan, Noda also vowed to work with the central bank more closely to support the economy, repeating wording the government has used in the past to pressure the central bank.
Noda’s cabinet approved a US$5.3 billion fiscal stimulus plan last week that economists said was too small to have much impact, and piled more pressure on the BOJ, which is expected to boost its monetary stimulus steps at Tuesday’s meeting.
Noda’s policy speech came at the opening of an extra parliament session called to work primarily on a bill needed to fund a 38.3 trillion yen (US$474 billion) budget deficit. There are no signs of it gaining backing from the opposition.
“In order to fulfil my ‘responsibility for tomorrow’, I cannot abandon jobs halfway to their completion,” Noda told the lower house. “We shouldn’t create at will a political vacuum that would cause policies to stall.”
Noda promised in August to call an election “soon” in order to secure opposition votes for another key piece of legislation – his signature sales tax increase plan designed to shore up state finances saddled by swelling social security costs.
But he has been coy on exactly when he will call the election for the lower house, which must be held by August next year, and analysts believe he is unlikely to do so in the near future given poor ratings in opinion polls for his ruling Democratic Party.
In a sign of the opposition’s deepening frustration, the upper house, which it controls, has refused to hold a session on Noda’s speech following a non-binding censure motion against him passed by the chamber in the last parliament session.
The current session is due to last until November 30, and unless Noda wins opposition backing for the deficit bill the government may run out of money by the end of next month.
That could trigger a “fiscal cliff” of draconian spending cuts and push the economy back into recession. The prospect has drawn close scrutiny from ratings agencies Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s.
“No government can manage the current public finances without the bill,” Noda said, appealing for opposition support.
“If the situation is left as it is, administrative services could stall, which would seriously affect people’s livelihoods and thwart efforts to revive the economy.”
In the speech, largely summarising government policy, Noda vowed to tackle deflation and the yen’s excessive strength, which is hurting the export-reliant country.
He also reiterated his resolve to protect Japanese territory and waters, an apparent reference to recent rows with China and South Korea over separate groups of disputed islets.
“Concluding relationships of trust with surrounding countries such as China, South Korea and Russia, with a comprehensive view, strengthens the foundations on which Japan and the whole region enjoy peace and prosperity,” Noda said.
“It is one of the grave responsibilities a country has to fulfil.”
Noda said he would promote free trade deals such as the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership and others including one involving Japan, China and South Korea, with the aim of realising Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, while protecting national interests.
He also reiterated the government’s vague promise to try to ditch nuclear power in the 2030s while promoting green energy, following the radiation crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant triggered by last year’s massive earthquake and tsunami.