The Yomiuri ShimbunLeaders of ruling and opposition parties should discuss domestic and international issues from a broad perspective. This must continuously be kept in mind.
Ruling and opposition party leaders debated for the first time in this Diet session, and for the first since June last year. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the leaders of four opposition parties faced off one-on-one.
Each opposition party leader focused on a report issued by a panel of experts of the Financial Services Agency that an elderly couple would need ¥20 million in savings in addition to pension benefits to cover living expenses after retirement.
Yukio Edano, the leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, was critical of the current state of the pension system, saying, “[The Abe administration] only insists that the pension system is secure, but does not squarely face the anxieties [of the people].”
Stressing that the government has increased employment through economic growth and has secured revenues from pension premiums, the prime minister replied: “[The administration] is facing up to reality.”
Edano commented on the refusal of Taro Aso, state minister for financial services, to accept the report, saying, “By ignoring a fact that he doesn’t want to see, he is deceiving [the public].”
The prime minister said Aso did not accept the report because the inclusion of words such as “deficit” in the report confused the public. The government’s response to the issue is certainly difficult to understand.
Edano proposed a system of setting an upper limit on the total amount shouldered by low-income earners for medical care, nursing care and other social security-related payments. Although it would be difficult to secure financial resources for his proposal, it is commendable that Edano did not merely criticize the report, but urged the prime minister to debate policy.
Increase duration of debates
Yuichiro Tamaki, the leader of the Democratic Party for the People, questioned the government’s insistence that “the pension system will be secure for 100 years.” “There is no definite proof that financial resources to fund pension programs can be secured,” he said. The prime minister replied: “Sustainability is guaranteed.”
The government stemmed the burden shouldered by working-age generations in the 2004 pension system reform, enhancing the stability of the system by curbing the benefits of seniors.
The government plans to conduct its once-every-five-years pension financing review this year. Taking into account the declining birth rate, aging population and economic trends, it will consider a review of the system. It must make efforts to deepen the discussion in a coolheaded way based on objective figures.
It is also indispensable to get an overview of the entire social security system, including medical and nursing care.
The total time allocated for party leader debates is 45 minutes. The time allocated to Japanese Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii and Toranosuke Katayama, coleader of Nippon Ishin no Kai, was 5½ minutes each. Under such circumstances, fruitful debate cannot be expected.
A significant extension of the duration of debates should be discussed, in consideration of the current Diet situation in which opposition parties are split. Jeering that could drown out debates is also problematic. It is hoped that an environment will be established in which the prime minister and opposition party leaders will listen to each other’s opinions and engage in a two-way dialogue.
The agreement between ruling and opposition parties that debates are held once a month in principle has become a mere facade. They should seriously discuss the matter to vitalize debates.