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Prime Minister Naoto Kan begins Diet hurdles

The Diet opens its ordinary session today. The results will greatly influence the fate of Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his Cabinet. By his recent Cabinet reshuffle, Kan has made it clear that he will give priority to unified reform of the tax system ― which would include a consumption tax hike ― and the social welfare system as well as to Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional free-trade agreement. Given the opposition bloc’s control of the Upper House, the hurdle for the Kan Cabinet and the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is high.

The fact that Kan decided to start the Diet session as late as Jan. 24 shows his failure to grasp the difficult situation in which Japan finds itself. For example, as of Dec. 1, only 68.8 percent of university students scheduled to graduate this spring secured jobs ― a record low since statistics were first taken in 1996. By comparison, two years ago, then Prime Minister Taro Aso convened the ordinary Diet session on Jan. 5, in the wake of the Lehman Brothers financial shock.

Kan has declared that he will adopt basic directions for tax and social welfare reform and the TPP issue by the end of June. These are not easy issues to tackle. Not only public opinion but also opinion within the DPJ is divided. Without at least unified support from the DPJ, Kan will not be able to persuade the opposition on these matters.

In an attempt to carry out the tax and social welfare reforms, Kan tapped Kaoru Yosano, who had assumed important posts under the Liberal Democratic Party’s rule, as minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy. Since Yosano had vehemently attacked the DPJ’s policies, both Kan and Yosano will face strong criticism from the opposition in the Diet. Kan also has not yet unified the views of Yosano and the DPJ on how to finance the basic portion of pensions in the future.

In addition to Diet business, Kan and the DPJ must face voters’ verdict in local elections in April. He will be able to overcome his and the DPJ’s crisis only when he presents convincing policy measures to stabilize people’s lives.

(The Japan Times, Jan. 24)
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