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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #214: May 11, 2004

Japan Opposition's Kan Quits on Pension Payment Issue

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Japan Opposition's Kan Quits on Pension Payment Issue"


So, Mr Kan, the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, finally quit. It was "finally" in the terms of political timeframe scale as well as in context. It was not a direct result of failure in pursuing his policy agenda or objectives. It was not because his capability as leading the opposition was seriously challenged. It was a set of arguably tiny mistakes if it had been for an ordinary person, which combined into a fatal amalgam for a politician, raising doubts as to his competency to serve for people, at the very basic levels.

Evading a payment of mandatory national pension premium is not a commendable act, and it is even illegal. It was a sort of a surprise for so many, more than a few dozen at last count and still increasing, members of the diet have been found to fail the payments. They should obviously be fully responsible for the consequences of the delinquencies.

Having said this, there is some grounds for mitigation. The system is indeed very complex and could easily be misunderstood. As such, for ordinary salaried workers, the burden to calculate and collect the premium is laid upon the employers, not employees. And for those with other means of income, the rate of payment is low. In fact, it has been reported elsewhere that only 60% of the population required to pay premiums have been doing so.

Accordingly, it had been generally considered the delinquency itself is not significant enough an offence which deserves death sentence, or a call for automatic disqualification of being a member of the diet.

Mr Fukuda, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, who had been extending the record length of time holding the position, was the first lawmaker to resign the official position. This actually surprised many, as it was generally considered, aside from the usual difference in political views, that he had been serving the post well, and that, as mentioned above, the non-payment, though not prestigious, was not enough to force him out of the job. He said upon resignation that "As the cabinet spokesman I deeply apologize to the Japanese people for spreading any political mistrust." By saying so, he had indicated that the direct cause of the resignation may not be the failure of the payments itself, but the mishandling the situation as a senior government official when he seemed to sound trying to evade the discussion of the issue itself. As such, Mr Fukuda's resignation was accepted even with a certain level of respect.

On the contrary, Mr Kan have had mistreated the matter from the very beginning. As soon as the initial reports came out that three cabinet ministers had missed the premium payments, Mr Kan began to accuse the ministers with the harshest words, and vociferously demanded their resignation, as they "do not deserve to remain as ministers because they had deceived the people." This may be an acceptable political tactic for an opposition leader, but it was only the following day that the report came out that Mr Kan himself had evaded the premium payments.

Perhaps that was when and promptly Mr Kan should have resigned. If so, he could live up to his words that such a person do not qualify for leading the people, and could have also aroused a large movement among people against the present cabinet, leading to a political turmoil oppositions always so long for. But Mr Kan blew it.

Mr Kan's initial response to the report of his own delinquency was to blame the bureaucrats for their delinquencies in not informing and guiding him properly in handlings of his own pensions, claiming strongly that he had done nothing wrong. Facing a fierce denunciation by the public and even some of his party colleagues, he backed down to say that the his nonpayment, as it could happen to anyone, shows the pension system needs to be modified in accordance with to his party's assertions. This comment, instead of pleasing anyone, invited more resentment. He then embarrassingly stated in an attempt to excuse himself that his earlier actions of accusing the three ministers at in such a severe manner may had gone too far, and would want to take it back.

Whether this may be called a double-standard, or a triple-standard, it was this arbitrary and inconsistent attitude of Mr Kan which drove away trust and confidence of the people, including his colleagues in the party, leading to his resignation. It must have been a simple oversight for him to miss the premium payments, but it was the mishandling of the matter where people felt his unscrupulous aspect, costing his reputation and the political status.

This is not good for the party, either. DPJ was formed only last fall by a merger of two parties, one led by Mr Kan, which was already a fragile amalgamation of a number of political factions, and the other led by Mr Ozawa, which was a spin-off of the LDP. Within this assemblage, there are politicians more extreme than the LDP members, as well as others more far-fetched than the Communist Party. The unstable structure of the party would make it undoubtedly a daunting challenge for anyone succeeding Mr Kan as the leader -- undecided at this point which itself is indicative of the turmoil within the party -- if at all possible.

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