Photo/IllutrationKoichi Hagiuda, the executive acting secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, speaks at a news conference. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A close ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hinted at a possible delay in the planned October hike of the consumption tax rate on April 18, triggering speculation that a snap Lower House election could be called.

Koichi Hagiuda, the executive acting secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, pointed to recent economic reports in connection with the planned consumption tax hike from the current 8 percent to 10 percent.

"While the economy was on a strong recovery course, it has fallen somewhat more recently, as seen in the Bank of Japan (quarterly) 'tankan' survey," Hagiuda said on an April 18 program of the DHC Television Co., which broadcasts over the Internet. "We will have to closely look at the next one in June."

The results of the June tankan survey will be released on July 1.

Hagiuda indicated that the consumption tax rate hike could be postponed depending on the results of the survey.

"If it becomes obvious that the immediate future poses some danger, I believe there might be a different course taken because it would not do to bring everyone along as we head toward the cliff," he said.

Hagiuda also said that if the decision was made to postpone the tax rate hike, the understanding of the public would be required, indicating that a snap Lower House election could be held.

But he stopped short of proposing a double election along with this summer's Upper House election, saying that the timing would not allow for such a development.

Meanwhile, other officials were still maintaining there was no change in the planned consumption tax rate hike.

At his April 18 news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the hike would proceed as planned as long as there was no repeat of what occurred in 2008 with the collapse of the U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, which hit the Japanese economy hard.

Hiroshi Moriyama, the chairman of the LDP's Diet Affairs Committee, also said the party had made no discussions along the lines of Hagiuda's suggestion.

Meanwhile, opposition party lawmakers and a top business official pounced on Hagiuda's comments.

Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary-general of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said, "We have finally seen the collapse of Abenomics. The ruling party is becoming panicky. We will have to put the issue of the failure of Abenomics before the voters in a snap Lower House election."

Akio Mimura, chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said of Hagiuda's comment, "It is unbelievable. It is something I cannot understand because I feel the tax rate will definitely be raised."

He questioned whether Hagiuda made the remark after consulting with government and LDP officials because it was wrong to make such a suggestion based on "short-term and slight" changes in economic trends.