Ruling bloc, opposition clash over pensions, Iraq

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Leaders of the ruling and opposition camps engaged in heated debate Monday in Tokyo on issues pertaining to pensions and Iraq — two crucial topics in the leadup to the July 11 House of Councilors election.

During the two-hour debate at the Japan National Press Club, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi came under fire from the opposition camp for forcing the Diet passage of pension reform bills earlier this month.

Opposition party leaders also slammed Koizumi for deciding recently to let Self-Defense Forces elements participate in a U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq without first seeking a domestic consensus.

Democratic Party of Japan President Katsuya Okada demanded that the pension reform package be scrapped, saying the plan must be rebuilt from scratch.

The DPJ is demanding an integration of pension programs that are currently designed differently for salaried workers, public servants and self-employed people.

Koizumi urged Okada to cooperate with the Liberal Democratic party and its coalition partner, New Komeito, to launch a joint council to discuss the pension reforms in accordance with an earlier tripartite agreement that stipulates the three parties should reach a conclusion on the reforms, including the integration issue, by March 2007.

Okada refused to comply, saying the ruling bloc must first show how the system could be integrated.

New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki questioned how the DPJ would be able to keep its pledges to the people when it cannot act in accordance with the tripartite agreement.

The pension reforms raise premiums while reducing benefits to maintain the system amid the nation’s rapidly aging society. But the package makes no reference to integrating the three different schemes.

The opposition camp also called for the withdrawal of the SDF troops in Iraq, citing the worsening security situation. They said the SDF can no longer carry out their humanitarian and reconstruction activities in “noncombat zones” as stipulated by a special law pertaining to the SDF dispatch to Iraq.

Kazuo Shii, the Japanese Communist Party’s executive committee chief, and Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima went on to say SDF participation in the multinational force would violate the Constitution.

“Participating in the multinational force doesn’t mean the SDF will participate in the military action,” Koizumi said. “(The troops) will continue to engage in humanitarian and reconstruction activities.”