Tue, Jan 06, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Aso pressured to call snap elections

RESISTANCE The Japanese prime minister said on Sunday that he would not call elections for a few months at least, pledging to tackle the economic crisis first

AFP , TOKYO

The Japanese parliament convened yesterday for a session on measures to revive the flagging economy, with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso under pressure both from within and outside the ruling bloc to call a snap election.

Aso, whose support has dwindled to around 20 percent in recent polls, is introducing a ¥4.79 trillion (US$52 billion) supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 (ending next March) and a record-high annual budget for fiscal 2009 (ending March next year).

The packages include tax cuts, cash rebates and other incentives aimed at stimulating the world’s second-largest economy, which has slipped into recession.

“We face a mountain of difficult issues sitting before us. But let us be united and go through the parliament session,” Aso told his ministers in the new year’s first Cabinet meeting.

Aso later told lawmakers from his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP): “We are confident that we submitted the best plan possible and that the legislation is the best remedy to boost the economy.”

Japanese Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa urged parliament to pass the legislation, warning that the economy was set to get worse as demand for Japanese exports slumps and consumer spending fails to pick up.

“The international financial and capital markets have fallen into a crisis that is said to come only once in 100 years, pushing the economy into recession,” Nakagawa said.

However, the Aso government faces tough battles on the legislative floor. The opposition, which controls the less powerful upper house, is gearing up to block bills from the ruling party and is demanding an early snap election.

The LDP has been in power for all but 10 months since 1955, but has switched prime minister three times in about two years as it struggles to win public support.

“This year will become a year of historic importance,” Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, told a party meeting.

“With our goal of putting the priority on people’s lives, we have to earn public support — first through snap elections and then through actual policymaking,” Ozawa said.

Even some senior members from within the LDP have leveled fresh criticism at Aso over the last few days.

Former LDP secretary general Hidenao Nakagawa lamented Aso’s plan to raise consumption tax in three years’ time, saying even discussing it now could “further hurt the Japanese economy.”

Former reform minister Yoshimi Watanabe also reiterated his call for snap elections and changes to the proposed budget.

“If my message isn’t taken into consideration, I am prepared to launch a national movement even if I have to leave the LDP,” he told supporters on Sunday.

But Aso told a news conference on Sunday he would not call elections for a few months at least, pledging to tackle the economic crisis first.

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