In an effort to advance his goal of restoring Japan’s fiscal well being by pushing for a sales tax hike, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has restructured his Cabinet- sacking five members and appointing new ones.
The move hopes to solicit support from opposition parties for the proposed increase in consumption tax to 10% by 2015 to be undertaken in two tranches 8 % in April 2014 and 10 % in October 2015.
Noda’s government has expressed that increasing sales tax is inevitable as it seeks to address Japan’s national debt which has reached about 200% of GDP in the wake of the reconstruction efforts brought by the March 11 disaster.
The reshuffle included replacements of Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa by Naoki Tanaka, the son-in-law of Japan’s former Prime Minister, Kakuei Tanaka; and consumer affairs minister Kenji Yamaoka who was succeeded by senior vice transport minister Jin Matsubara. Ichikawa and Yamaoka were among the most criticized members of the Cabinet.
More significantly, Japan’s premier has appointed Katsuya Okada to the newly created position of deputy prime minister. Okada was a former Secretary-General of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and who had held a number of senior posts in the government. He is expected to lobby with opposition parties specifically on reforms on consumption tax and promote public understanding on the matter.
Noda, who took office in September last year and is the sixth prime minister in five years, has been losing public support as shown by recent polls which is down to 35.7% from 44.6% in December.
Despite skepticisms about the recent reshuffling, Noda said his current team is ‘‘the strongest and best team” to respond to pressing and extraordinary challenges Japan is confronted with and which needs prompt action.