National / Politics

Finance Minister Taro Aso survives no-confidence motions over rejection of Japan pension report

Kyodo, Staff Report

Opposition party-submitted resolutions rebuking Finance Minister Taro Aso for his refusal to receive a report questioning the ability of the country’s pension system to meet retirees’ needs were voted down in the Diet on Friday.

The House of Representatives rejected a no-confidence motion against Aso, who opposition parties argue made an “unprecedented” and “outrageous” move in rejecting a report on the basis that it does not give a true representation of the situation.

Aso, who also serves as minister for financial services and deputy prime minister, refused last week to receive the report, saying the panel’s estimate contradicted the government’s position that the pension system is able to meet “to some extent” people’s household financial requirements in retirement.

Opposition parties ratcheted up pressure on Aso by submitting a censure motion in the House of Councilors, but it was also voted down earlier in the day. The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito control both chambers.

The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Democratic Party for the People and the Japanese Communist Party were among the parties that submitted the resolutions.

The pension issue came to the fore ahead of an Upper House election this summer. A Financial Services Agency panel estimated in the report that an average retired couple would face a public pension shortfall of ¥20 million ($186,000) if they live to be 95 years old.

Aso said the report caused “extreme worries and misunderstanding” among the public, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe labeled it “misleading” because it is an average figure presented without context.

With a rapidly aging society, Japan’s social security costs, currently about a third of its annual state budget, are set to increase in the years to come.

Aso, an outspoken veteran politician known for being gaffe-prone, has a poor record when it comes to his past comments about the rising number of elderly people.

In 2016, Aso drew criticism after he said in a speech before voters that he had seen a 90-year-old person on television say, “I’m worried about my sunset years.” Aso then said in his speech, “How much longer do you intend to live?”

The Abe administration has been seeking to enhance social security services in order to create a society in which people can live to be 100 without experiencing financial worries.

Opposition parties have criticized Abe for failing to address public concerns about the pension system, which could be a hot-button topic in the upcoming election.

When Abe was prime minister between 2006 and 2007, the LDP suffered a defeat in the 2007 Upper House race due in part to its mishandling of pension records.

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