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UPPER HOUSE ELECTION 2010 / 60% of DPJ candidates back tax hike / Support soars from 2007 preelection poll

Nearly 60 percent of the Democratic Party of Japan's prospective candidates for the upcoming House of Councillors election believe raising the consumption tax rate is inevitable to sustain this country's social security system, according to a survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Between May 28 and June 15, the Yomiuri contacted 392 people expected to run in electoral district or proportional representation contests in the upper house election on July 11. Of this number, 352, or about 90 percent, responded.

Among those expected to run for the upper house election with the backing of the Liberal Democratic Party, about 90 percent felt a consumption tax hike was inevitable. Among aspirants to be fielded by New Komeito, People's New Party, New Renaissance Party or Sunrise Party of Japan, the majority accepted the necessity of an increase.

In contrast, 74 percent of likely candidates from Your Party opposed any consumption tax increase, while all the expected candidates backed by the Social Democratic Party or Japanese Communist Party were against such a measure.

The survey indicated the wisdom of an increase in the consumption tax rate will likely be a major point of contention in the coming election campaign.

Asked whether raising the consumption tax rate was inevitable to maintain the social security system, 58 percent of DPJ respondents said yes, compared with 89 percent of their LDP counterparts.

In a similar survey The Yomiuri Shimbun conducted prior to the last upper house election in 2007, only 14 percent of DPJ candidates and 52 percent of LDP candidates were in favor of a higher consumption tax rate.

A simple comparison cannot be made between the two polls' findings, due to their different wordings. However, the figures of 58 percent and 89 percent in the latest survey do indicate how much the perceived need for a higher tax rate has increased within both the major parties.

There are some prospective candidates on the DPJ ticket, however, who are apparently reluctant to campaign on a pledge to raise the consumption tax rate. Of the 91 prospective DPJ candidates surveyed, 21 said they opposed increasing the tax rate.

Six of the 21 opponents were running for the upper house for the first time, at the suggestion of former party Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, in electoral districts where two or more upper house seats are up for grabs. Their skepticism may stem at least partly from the influence of Ozawa, who was wary of a higher consumption tax rate.

Some also went from opposing to supporting a possible consumption tax hike following Prime Minister Naoto Kan's comments Thursday about the need to raise the rate sooner or later to around 10 percent from the current 5 percent.

Other prospective DPJ candidates have remained opposed to any hike in the consumption tax. One is Hiromi Ito, a first-time candidate who plans to run in the Miyagi prefectural district with the district's incumbent upper house member from the DPJ.

"Considering the hardships of low-income people, I can't help but maintain my view that the consumption tax should remain unchanged at 5 percent," Ito said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Friday.

Another likely DPJ candidate, Yoko Takashima, who will run in the Nagano prefectural district alongside Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, said the same day: "I'm quite perplexed by the prime minister's abrupt reference to the possibility of the consumption tax being raised to 10 percent.

"I'm determined to address the task of streamlining bloated administrative organizations as a top policy priority, so I don't think it advisable to focus solely on the consumption tax issue."

Another question in the survey asked the respondents their opinion of how the administration of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama handled the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture.

Of the DPJ members surveyed, only 10 percent said the Hatoyama Cabinet dealt with the Futenma issue "more or less adequately," while 66 percent said it handled the issue "more or less inadequately."

(Jun. 20, 2010)
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