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Friday, Aug. 10, 2007

DPJ goes on offensive with two new bills

Pension loss fiasco, posts privatization are targeted

Staff writer

The Democratic Party of Japan began testing its mettle Thursday as the top force in the Upper House by submitting during the Diet's extra four-day session two bills aimed at challenging ruling bloc-penned laws.

The first bill limits use of pension insurance premiums for just pension payments. The law the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc rammed past the DPJ in the last ordinary Diet session permits the money to be used for other purposes, including pension-related publicity.

Later in the day, the DPJ teamed up with the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) to submit a bill to postpone the privatization of the postal service. Although not spelled out in the bill, the parties are eyeing a one-year delay to revise the privatization plan, which is to start Oct. 1.

Since the extra session closes Friday, the two bills will need to be carried over to the next extraordinary Diet session, which is scheduled for this autumn, for deliberation.

"The pension system was one of the key issues for the Upper House election and one for which the voters gave their support to (the DPJ)," said Upper House member Tetsuro Fukuyama, the policy chief of the party's Upper House caucus. "This is only the first step for reflecting the will of the public."

Instead of using premium payments, the DPJ suggested that money for covering various pension management matters be provided by the state. This bill was submitted during the ordinary Diet session but voted down by the ruling coalition.

The ruling bloc came under severe criticism after the Social Insurance Agency admitted it couldn't identify some 50 million pension records. The revelation meant people had been receiving less money than they were entitled to.

"The public's anger toward the pension (fiasco determined) the outcome of the election," said DPJ politician Shinya Adachi, a member of the upper chamber's welfare committee. "In order to regain public trust, the first thing (we must do) is prohibit the use of pension premium payments for anything but pension payments, which are managed by the SIA."

Kokumin Shinto, the party established in August 2005 by "postal reform rebels" who were against then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's postal privatization initiative, took the lead in pushing for a bill to delay the postal privatization. Kokumin Shinto's opposition to the reforms was a key policy plank for the Upper House poll.

Kokumin Shinto member Kensei Hasegawa told reporters after the bill was submitted that the three opposition parties aim to get it through the Diet before Oct. 1. After the privatization law is frozen, they will discuss amendments, he said.

"(Kokumin Shinto) is not doing this for revenge" against the LDP, he said. "Our position is to protect the public's convenience. We have absolutely no intention of fighting between parties to save face or seek revenge for the past."

Hasegawa noted that problems are already surfacing as Japan Post prepares to go private. Employees are suffering from long working hours while customers are complaining that they aren't getting the same service anymore, he said.

"We submitted this bill because we cannot just sit and wait for (the postal privatization) law to take effect Oct. 1," Hasegawa said.

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The Japan Times

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