National / Politics

Smarting from pension snafu, LDP has modest poll hopes

The Liberal Democratic Party must “humbly accept” the harsh public outrage over its recent forced passage of contentious pension reform bills as it strives to retain its strength in the July 11 House of Councilors election, the LDP secretary general said.

“Our goal is (to win) 51 seats currently held (by the party) that are being contested,” Shinzo Abe told The Japan Times in an interview this week.

“Facing the election after fulfilling our obligation (to enact the government bills) amid very severe criticism against pension reforms, I don’t think it’s an easy target. . . . It is a rather severe goal,” he said.

While there are voices both within and outside the party that the LDP should set a higher target for the coming election, Abe pointed out that it was able to capture only 44 seats in the Upper House election six years ago. The 51 LDP members whose seats are up for grabs this time include seven who joined the party after that poll.

Half of the Upper House seats are up for grabs in the triennial election. If the LDP, which is reportedly fielding nearly 50 single-seat district and over 30 proportional representation candidates, wins 56 or more, it will regain a single-party majority for the first time since 1989.

But even if that happens, Abe said the LDP will continue its coalition with New Komeito based on their relationship of trust.

“The coalition framework will continue because the LDP and New Komeito have been working out policies together,” Abe said. “In that sense, (whether to keep the coalition) is not only a question of Diet seat numbers.”

On the pension reforms, which will hike premiums and reduce benefits through 2017, Abe said his party must humbly accept the public anger and strive to spell out how serious the situation is and how it could not be left unattended.

“The pension system is going into the red amid the rapid aging of the population, and if nothing is done, it will show a loss of 4.4 trillion yen as of next year,” Abe said. “I want to explain the need to first stop making such losses and keep the system sustainable by balancing benefits with (premium) burdens, and then discuss overall social security, including nursing care and pensions.”

Abe went on to criticize Democratic Party of Japan leader Katsuya Okada for refusing to honor an agreement on pension reform reached last month by the DPJ, LDP and New Komeito to set up a panel on future reforms, including the DPJ’s demand for integrating the existing programs covering salaried workers and the self-employed, unless the ruling bloc presents a reform road map beforehand.

“All of us need to discuss whether the integration is a good thing,” Abe said. “Nothing has been verified as to what improvements would be made as a result of the integration.”

Abe also underscored the need to gauge public support for a proposed taxpayer numbering system that would give the government a clear picture of people’s income. Such a system would be essential for integrating the pension programs, but it may infringe on privacy, he noted.

Abe asked for public acceptance of the government’s recent decision to keep Self-Defense Forces elements deployed in Iraq so they can be part of a U.S.-led multinational force to be formed under a new United Nations resolution.

“It’s totally wrong to make their joining the multinational force a point of contention when discussing whether to continue the (humanitarian) SDF activities in Samawah,” he said, stressing that the SDF’s participation in the multinational force is merely a procedural matter.

“I believe we will win the understanding of all the people as long as the debate boils down to whether the SDF will continue the mission and live up to the Samawah people’s expectations, or stop altogether.”

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