Monday, November 29, 1999

INTERVIEW - Japan DPJ has shot at upper house majority - lawmaker

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Japan's ruling Democratic Party has a shot at taking an outright majority in a July 11 upper house election that it needs to win to avoid a policy stalemate, a party heavyweight said on Thursday.Hajime Ishii, acting head of the party's election campaign headquarters, also said the Democrats have a golden opportunity to shift policy gears to a more realistic fiscal stance, now that voters are worried about the country's bulging public debt."If a vote were held now, we'd get around 50 seats or so, but over the next month, if we appeal as the ruling party with proper policies and fight in the districts, attaining an outright majority is not impossible," Ishii told Reuters in an interview.Voter support for the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has rebounded since Prime Minister Naoto Kan took over from his unpopular predecessor Yukio Hatoyama last week, improving the party's chances at the polls.The party needs to win 60 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the 242-member chamber to take a majority without relying on current or new coalition partners to pass bills smoothly.Kan has made reining in the public debt, already the biggest among advanced countries at about 200 percent of the country's GDP, a top priority.Domestic media said a DPJ manifesto to be unveiled later on Thursday will call for a bipartisan debate on tax reform, opening the door to an early rise in the 5 percent sales tax, and signalling a major shift from the focus on spending in the general election that swept the party to power last year."Public opinion is in favour of changing the manifesto to make it more practical," Ishii said."It is a good chance to change course."But he added that the Democratic party-led government would not raise the sales tax without taking the matter to the voters in an election for parliament's more powerful lower house, which must be held by late 2013 but could come sooner."We want to make this is a focus of the next general election," he said.

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