Japan PM Shuffles Cabinet to Win Support for Tax Hike Proposal

Posted January 13th, 2012 at 1:05 am (UTC-5)
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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reshuffled his cabinet on Friday in an attempt to gain cross-party support for a controversial plan to raise the country's sales tax.

Mr. Noda replaced five government ministers but he left 12 posts unchanged, including finance minister and foreign minister.

Naoki Tanaka will replace Yasuo Ichikawa as defense minister, while Jin Matsubara takes over as consumer affairs minister for Kenji Yamaoka. Both had been censured by the opposition for comments that were deemed inappropriate.

Mr. Noda also appointed Katsuya Okada – a widely respected former foreign minister – to be his deputy prime minister. The political veteran is expected to head up government efforts to reduce Japan's massive deficit by reforming the social security and tax system.

In particular, Mr. Noda is trying to gain opposition support for an unpopular plan to double a consumer sales tax to 10 percent by 2015. He has promised to submit the proposal during the current session of parliament.

Mr. Noda, who took office in September, is facing declining popularity ratings. Growing public criticism of the tax hike proposal has already prompted several members of his Democratic Party of Japan to quit in protest.

The DPJ says the increase is necessary to help pay for rising social security costs in the rapidly aging country.

Japan faces a historic level of debt as it continues to recover from last March's earthquake and tsunami — one of the costliest natural disasters in world history.