No taxation without representation

Asahi published a poll today addressing the consumption tax issue, and found that 72% of respondents want it to be a point of contention in the Upper House election.

This, remember, is the issue that Mr. Abe insisted, early in his cabinet, would not be discussed until autumn 2007, safely after the Upper House elections (safely given the history of consumption tax hikes and LDP election returns — 1989 in particular comes to mind).

The Japanese people are right to demand that the government, when facing the voters, actually discuss a policy that it intends to go ahead and consider anyway once the voters are safely out of the way.

What does it say about the government that it is afraid to put its policies before the people at election time? This tendency to be less than honest with voters especially at election time (due, I think, to assumptions that the people will misunderstand or otherwise misinterpret a policy) is a profoundly undemocratic trait of democratic governments around the world — it is hardly unique to Japan. In some way I think the Bush administration’s low opinion of the American people led the administration to hype the WMD angle, instead of pushing the regime change/democratization argument to the front and taking the risk that the American people might be skeptical about an invasion launched primarily for democratization. On a less catastrophic note, this tendency also sparked last year’s riots in Hungary.

But the universality of the tendency of democratic governments to mask their policies because they don’t trust their peoples does not excuse the Abe Cabinet’s pushing this issue back. If the cabinet thinks that raising the consumption tax rate is right, then it should have to explain its reasoning to the people. The Asahi poll suggests, in fact, that the public’s opposition to a consumption tax rise may not be nearly as implacable as the government fears. It found 40% of respondents think it necessary, while 51% find it unnecessary. That’s certainly not an impossible margin to overcome. Imagine if the government had decided to raise this issue itself earlier in the year — instead of spending an inordinate amount of time on the vanishing constitution issue, for example — and committed significant political capital to explaining why it’s necessary (with Yomiuri following right along, of course). Instead of being a political liability, the tax issue could have been an asset, or at least an example of the government’s taking its responsibilities seriously.

Just another example of how the Japanese people deserve better — and why the Abe Cabinet and the governing coalition deserve to be dealt a major defeat by the people.

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