TORONTO (Reuters) - Japan’s prime minister tried to quell suggestions on Saturday he could be the next in line of revolving door leaders, sticking to a modest target in a forthcoming election after polls showed his party may miss a majority.
Speculation simmers that rivals in Naoto Kan’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) could try to oust him if the party fares poorly in the July 11 upper house election. The party needs a majority in the chamber to forge ahead with policies to boost the economy and cut huge debt.
The DPJ, which swept to power for the first time last year, will run the government regardless of the outcome given its dominance in the lower house, but control of the upper house would enable it to avoid policy deadlock.
Kan, who took over this month as Japan’s fifth premier in three years, said he was standing by a goal to win 54 of 121 seats in the election. That would fall short of a majority but analysts say Kan is setting the bar low to avoid being ousted in a party leadership vote in September.
“Before I became the party leader, the DPJ was in a tough position,” he told reporters in Toronto, where he was making his debut at a meeting of G8 and G20 leaders.
“I want to focus on winning the current number of seats we have, then how we can exceed that.”
Media have reported that the DPJ could well fall short of an outright majority and may need to find new allies to control the chamber, clouding the outlook for policies.
A June 24-25 survey by the Asahi newspaper showed the DPJ could win about 54 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the 242-member upper house, in line with Kan’s target but short of the 60 it needs for an outright majority.
Support for the DPJ-led government has rebounded since Kan took over from the unpopular Yukio Hatoyama. But ratings slipped after Kan made fiscal reform the heart of his campaign and floated the idea of doubling the 5 percent sales tax.
While many voters agree an increase in the sales tax is inevitable to pay growing social security costs and fix tattered public finances, others say the government should first do more to cut wasteful spending.
Kan said priorities would be established for spending cuts and pledged to drum up support for bold tax reforms from DPJ members, some of whom are wary that the idea could hurt the party’s election chances.
“Of course we will consider ways to not put too much burden on people with low incomes,” Kan said. “My proposal is to initiate debate, so I think I can win (the party’s) understanding.”
Editing by Ron Popeski