JIN-273 -- Pension Pathos and Politics

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Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 273
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Pension Pathos and Politics

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Pension Pathos and Politics

On one level, the pensions-non-payment scandal now decimating the
ranks of Japanese politics is comical. The government is wrestling hard to
push through its pensions reform bill -- for which there is an undeniably
desperate need -- and has been steeling the country for a pretty tough set
of measures to solve the deep crisis in the national pension system.
Pitching itself as the model of probity, the government has also said it
will be coming down hard on persistent non-payers.

Lo and behold, Koizumi needs look no further in his quest to crack down
on delinquency than his own cabinet, where no fewer than six errant members
have not paid. Even the model posing as their "Pay Up Now" poster campaign
eye-candy turned out not to have ponied up for her pension.

When chief cabinet secretary Fukuda resigned, the mourning was brief and
insincere. Every political insider we talked to knows this isn't the last
we'll be seeing of such a repugnantly ambitious figure -- the smart money
is on him getting the foreign minister's job in the July cabinet reshuffle.

But the resignation of Naoto Kan earlier this week is actually not that
funny at all. We smirked at first because he's a slimy character and this
was a particularly embarrassing comeuppance.

But it is not hard to read the event as a bleak day for Japanese politics.

The first problem is that, like him or not, Kan had molded the Democratic
Party of Japan (DPJ) into a viable opposition bloc to take on the LDP.
Perhaps it would not unfold fully for another two general elections, but
analysts were starting to see the beginning of two-party politics in
Japan -- a welcome development after a half century of LDP rule. Kan
achieved this by crudely cobbling together an uncomfortable alliance of
parties under the DPJ umbrella.

Without his presence, it seems more than likely that the whole operation
will crumble back into its constituent parts, hurling the core DPJ coalition
back into the realms of the unelectable.

The second and much more profound problem caused by Kan's resignation is
that Koizumi has lost a temporary ally in the battle to get his pensions
reform package through. He has won the first round despite all this furor,
but anyone can see that the first bill is just an opening gambit. The
pensions issue is the mother of all time-bombs, and a diet in cross-party
disarray is unlikely to come up with anything solid to defuse it.

-- The Editors

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Written and edited by Roland Kelts and
Leo Lewis (editors@japaninc.com)


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