An ugly, dispiriting exercise, in other words.
Now, just a few weeks later, with Hatoyama Yukio, Kamei Shizuka and Ozawa Ichiro sent to the sidelines, the public is being hit with a hard, inconvenient truth -- the country takes in too little revenue to pay for the services the public has come to expect, meaning that taxes will have to be raised -- and that the voters will have to make their choices in the election booth based in large part on the soundness of their plans the various parties have put forther confronting that inconvenient truth.
On May 2, just a month and a half ago, the Tokyo Shimbun ran an explainer article, a little Socratic dialogue about the struggle inside the ruling coalition over when the subject of raising taxes will be broached: before the election, after the election or never.
Q: "So if the experts and the politicians both are thinking the same way, then it is in fact already decided that tax rates will be raised?"Nobody is brave enough...while it is true that Prime Minister Kan Naoto, DPJ Secretary-General Edano Yukio and Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito are calling the bluff of the Liberal Democratic Party, which had challenged the ruling coalition to show some guts and talk about raising the consumption tax to 10% - a number the LDP never dared mention when it was in power save as a hypothetical -- it is not hyperbole to say that they have proven the Tokyo Shimbun wrong. The DPJ's new core leadership knows that talk of raising taxes is political poison. The party has taken a body blow (as did the LDP before it under Takeshita Noboru and Hashimoto Ryutaro) for talking honestly about Japan's fiscal situation and the unpleasant business of rebalancing the whole.
A: "No, no, no. While you are likely to hear expressions like 'We will have to with haste grapple with fundamental reform of the tax system, including the raising of the consumption tax", nobody is brave enough to say what the new tax rate will be or when it will come into effect. Because whatever the government's plan is, it will be in effect a part of the DPJ's manifesto for the House of Councillors election."
Q: "And the DPJ has made a public promise to raise the consumption tax before, hasn't it?"
A: "Yes, in the DPJ's 2005 House of Representatives election manifesto the party put forth a plan to raise the consumption tax rate exclusively in order to stabilize the pension system. However, in that election, the DPJ suffered a landslide loss."
Let the tough talk continue. Hurrah.
(This post has been reedited for clarity, based upon a reader's comment. - MTC)