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Japan ruling party sees separate surnames premature for legislation

The leaders of Japan's ruling and opposition parties pose after taking part in a public debate sponsored by video-sharing service Niconico in Tokyo on Oct. 17, 2021, ahead of the Oct. 31 general election. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said Monday that more discussion is necessary over separate surnames for married couples before legislation, in contrast to opposition parties' views during a debate session ahead of the Oct. 31 general election.

    The leaders of the LDP and many of eight opposition parties were also divided on possibly lowering the consumption tax rate to spur consumption to put the pandemic-hit economy back on a steady growth path during the session, as they are slated to kick off campaigning for the House of Representatives election on Tuesday.

    Kishida said his party has no plan to submit bills anytime soon for promoting the understanding of sexual minorities and allowing couples to have separate surnames after marriage.

    "I think it is very important to carefully consider how much people's understanding has advanced regarding this issue," Kishida said when the debate moderator asked each of the nine party leaders about the issue.

    For the ruling party, the matter remains a sensitive issue. The LDP approved a cross-party bill earlier in the year to promote greater awareness among the public of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. But it later waived submitting the bill to the parliament, facing backlash from conservative party members.

    All other party leaders, including Natsuo Yamaguchi of the LDP's junior coalition ally Komeito, responded that they plan to submit such bills in a regular parliamentary session next year when asked the same question.

    The LDP is also reluctant to cut the consumption tax rate while many opposition parties are vowing to do so in their election pledges.

    "I think we should rather focus on spurring demand as part of economic stimulus" without reducing the tax rate, Kishida said during the debate.

    The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, for example, seeks to halve the current 10 percent consumption tax rate as a temporary measure in its election pledges.

    In response to Kishida's question on how to address the adverse impact on consumption, CDPJ leader Yukio Edano said the tax cut is "a measure for responding to the worst crisis in a century" and could be extended depending on the economic situation. The shortfall in tax revenue can be covered by government bond issues, he added.

    Kishida said the reverse effects on businesses and the entire economy should be carefully examined when the tax rate is lifted back to 10 percent.

    Edano participated in the debate with other opposition party leaders, including Kazuo Shii of the Japanese Communist Party, Mizuho Fukushima of the Social Democratic Party and Taro Yamamoto of Reiwa Shinsengumi.

    The four opposition parties have come up with common platforms, as they share comprehensive philosophies and policies, the CDPJ head said.

    About 1,040 candidates are expected to vie for 465 seats in the House of Representatives, according to a Kyodo News tally.

    The last lower house election was held in October 2017, when Shinzo Abe was prime minister. The former premier stepped down for health reasons in September 2020 and was succeeded by his chief Cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, who quit last month amid mounting criticism of his government's coronavirus response.

    Apparently taking to heart the public's discontent with Suga's communication skills, Kishida has put an emphasis on listening to people's opinions and exchanged views Monday morning with Tokyo restaurant operators hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

    "I would like to create an environment in which (those in the restaurant industry) can work with hope," Kishida told reporters after the meeting. "While trying to ensure safety steps, we will aim to resume socioeconomic activities at a level close to non-crisis times."

    Even after a state of emergency over the pandemic was fully lifted in Japan on Oct. 1, many dining establishments still face restrictions in their operating hours.

    The LDP and Komeito held 305 of the 465 seats in the lower house before it was dissolved last week. They are seeking to win at least 233 seats this time.

    A Kyodo News survey conducted over the weekend showed the LDP leads in popular support, with 29.6 percent of respondents saying they will cast ballots for it in the proportional representation section of the election, followed by 9.7 percent backing the CDPJ.

    But 39.4 percent said they still do not know which party they will vote for. Komeito was supported by 4.7 percent.

    The LDP has only been ousted from power twice since its founding in 1955. The second time, from 2009 to 2012, it was by the forerunner to the CDPJ, the Democratic Party of Japan.

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