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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Ruling bloc poised to steamroller pension bills

Staff writer

The opposition parties made one final attempt Friday to stop the ruling bloc from ramming pension system-related bills through the Diet with motions to censure Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) submitted several censure motions in the House of Councilors and a request for a vote of no confidence against Abe's Cabinet in the House of Representatives.

"Abe's Cabinet is just running around, hiding the problems" instead of facing them, Yoshiaki Takaki, the DPJ's Diet affairs chief, said during a meeting of the party's Lower House members Friday afternoon.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito were prepared to vote to pass the three pension bills — one to remove the five-year limit on filing pension claims and two to dissolve the Social Insurance Agency and to create a public corporation to manage the pension system.

The motions against Abe and Yanagisawa were voted down by the ruling bloc's majority late Friday afternoon and the no-confidence motion against the Cabinet was also voted down in the Lower House later in the day. The other motions were expected to fail as well.

The Upper House was then expected to pass the bills early Saturday.

The debate over what to do with the pension system heated up in May, when the SIA admitted it had 50 million unidentified pension payments. The problem stems from 1997, when the government began issuing universal identification numbers. The old system used identification numbers for every new job or name change, and with the change, over 250 million payments were left unidentified.

To quell the public outrage about the remaining unmatched payments, the ruling bloc extended the 150-day Diet session by 12 days so it could get the three pension bills through the Diet. With the downward spiral in the government's support rate, the LDP-led bloc is in danger of losing its majority in the Upper House in next month's election.

"Abe's Cabinet betrayed the public and the state . . . and (Abe) used politics for personal use," DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama said. "Politics has been driven so low that the government is now trampling on the Diet."

The bill to remove the five-year pension claim limit was deliberated for only one day before the ruling bloc rammed it through the Lower House as opposition members crowded the floor, shouting for the vote to be stopped.

Yanagisawa said the bill is to help 250,000 people get a combined 95 billion yen in pension money — and that amount will grow as the rest of the payments are identified.

But the opposition parties have argued that the bill does nothing to solve the problem of matching the 50 million payments.

The ruling bloc was also set Friday to ram another controversial bill through the Upper House to curb "amakudari," the practice, seen as highly corrupt, of securing key positions for retiring top bureaucrats in the private sector and government-affiliated organizations they once oversaw.

For related stories:
Pension bills rammed past panel
Poll-wary ruling bloc gropes to fix pension fiasco
Parties duel in Diet over pension bills

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