Prime Minister Naoto Kan invited the opposition camp Monday to join a debate on social welfare and tax reforms as the 150-day Diet session opened, saying it is the responsibility of every lawmaker to address these pressing issues.
Kan’s humble 19-page policy speech was an overture to the opposition camp to join the deliberations, reflecting his lack of options in dealing with a Diet whose Upper House is opposition-controlled.
Kan, the Democratic Party of Japan’s president, cited proposals by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, the top opposition parties, to set up a common forum for discussing the critical reforms.
“As each party has proposed, let’s start discussions between the ruling and opposition parties,” Kan said, adding that both sides are aware of the need for debate.
The LDP’s position has been that the DPJ-led government must first submit a proposal to serve as the basis for the discussion. This prompted the DPJ to lay out its pension and tax reform goals, including a consumption tax hike, by June.
“It is inevitable that the people of this nation must be asked to bear a greater burden,” Kan said of his goal of raising the 5 percent consumption tax to fund the struggling social welfare system as the shrinking population continues to rapidly gray.
But it’s not just the public that will be asked to bear the burden, he said. Wasteful government spending — and the ranks of the lawmakers themselves — must be cut to demonstrate the government’s resolve to share responsibility.
During the DPJ presidential race last year, Kan vowed to draw up a plan to cut the size of the Diet by the end of December, but opposition from his own party prevented any action from being taken.
Kan said he is striving to achieve three ideals: opening up the nation, creating a society where unhappiness is kept to a minimum and righting the wrongs in politics.
The social security and tax reforms are part of the second item.
As for “opening up,” Kan vowed to make a decision on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations by June.
In November, the government agreed to “start consultations” with participants in the U.S.-backed regional free-trade pact but fell short of declaring Japan’s entry into the talks amid strong opposition from DPJ members from rural districts where the vote of the nation’s highly protected farmers weighs heavily.
The main feature of the TPP is an agreement to eliminate all tariffs.
On bilateral FTA talks, Kan said he will continue talks with Australia and resume or start talks with South Korea, the European Union and Mongolia.
“In the past 10 years, we have failed to keep up with the trend of expanding bilateral and regional economic partnerships,” he said. “Opening up the nation is the best way to share the global prosperity.”
To offset the impact on farmers of trade liberalization, Kan repeated that the government will compile basic measures to reform the industry by June and a concrete action plan by October.
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