Japan’s PM Kishida says poll to come before possible tax hike for boosting defense

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he expected the next general election to come before a possible hike in taxes that has met resistance from the public and is intended to fund his unprecedented expansion of defense spending.

“We will be asking the people to take on an extra burden starting at an appropriate time between 2024 and 2027,” Kishida said in an interview with satellite broadcaster BS TBS late Tuesday. “We are going to decide on the start date, but I think there will be an election before then.”

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He later told Kyodo News and other media in a separate group interview he didn’t plan to call an election next year.

Kishida has ordered a 60 percent increase in defense spending over five years after many in Japan have been spooked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rising tensions around Taiwan and developments with North Korea’s missile program. The move marks a historic change for a country with a pacifist constitution that has capped its military spending at about 1 percent of gross domestic product for decades.

While surveys show a majority of voters want more spent on defense, the idea of a tax hike to fund the expansion is unpopular — especially at a time when the worst inflation in 40 years is hurting household budgets. A poll published by the Sankei newspaper and broadcaster FNN this month found almost 70 percent opposed to a tax increase. Support for the cabinet has hit its lowest since Kishida took office more than a year ago in several polls.

Though the four-year lower house term doesn’t end until October 2025, and the opposition is in disarray, sagging approval ratings make it more difficult for Kishida to control his party and push policy pledges through parliament.

The premier has also faced opposition to the tax from within his ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Party policy chief Koichi Hagiuda told broadcaster FNN on Sunday that the matter should be taken to the electorate.

Kishida also told the group interview that he was not thinking of reshuffling his cabinet ahead of a parliamentary session expected to start next month, Kyodo said. The premier has been forced to replace four ministers in recent months amid a series of financial and other scandals.

Read more:

Japan unveils biggest military build-up since World War Two

Majority of Japanese oppose raising taxes to fund military expansion: Agency

Russia condemns ‘militarization’ of Japan under Kishida defense plan

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