Pension system reform most urgent issue for government: President


Taipei, June 23 (CNA) President Tsai Ing-wen said Thursday that reformingTaiwan‘s nearly bankrupt retirement pension system is the most urgent issue for the government and requires immediate action.

Several surveys have found that reform of the pension system tops the list of issues the people of Taiwan are concerned about, Tsai said, adding that the system is facing a bankruptcy crisis, due to the impact of changes in the country’s demographics and industrial structure over the past years.

She made the remarks during the first meeting of a national pension reform committee under the Presidential Office, which is headed by Vice President Chen Chien-jen.

The reform of the pension system is so urgent that it needs immediate action from the government to deal with it, she said.

The problems with the pension system have been around for many years, Tsai said. The system is facing bankruptcy due to an aging population and a low birth rate in the country, which she said have resulted from a lack of a sustainable financial model.

She pledged that her administration will make every effort to ensure that the right of citizens to enjoy retirement pensions will be protected.

Although the previous governments had tried to reform the pension system, their “unilateral” approach did not work out, Tsai said.

That is why her administration is now going with a “bottom-up” strategy that aims to expand civil participation in the reform of the pension system, she said, adding that representatives from all sectors will be able to express their opinions through a dialogue set up under the national pension reform committee.

To establish a sustainable system, Tsai said that the design of the system must take into account factors such as the government’s fiscal stability and the people’s financial abilities, while taking care of disadvantaged groups, narrowing the gaps in pension benefits given to people of different occupations, and ensuring a democratic and transparent policy-making process.

Pension reform is one of the five major reforms that Tsai has proposed during her presidential campaign. (By Lu Hsin-hui and Elaine Hou)

Upper house race sees younger electorate, redrawn boundaries


Japan’s House of Councillors election on July 10 is set to be slightly fairer and more inclusive than past races, following the redistribution of electoral districts and the extension of suffrage to 18- and 19-year-olds.

Under amendments to the Public Officers Election Law, four electoral district boundaries have been redrawn to address a long-running disparity in the weight of votes between constituencies, largely along an urban-rural divide.

The issue has built up over decades to the alarm of the Supreme Court, which labeled the last upper house race in 2013 “in a state of unconstitutionality.”

The sparsely populated prefectures of Tottori and Shimane on the Sea of Japan coast, previously electing two seats each, have been merged into a single two-seat constituency, as have Kochi and Tokushima prefectures on the island of Shikoku.

The change also halved the number of seats in Miyagi, Niigata and Nagano prefectures, while adding seats to Hokkaido, Tokyo, Aichi, Hyogo and Fukuoka.

The total number of seats in the upper house has thus remained unchanged at 242, half of which are contested every three years. Official campaigning for the July election kicked off Wednesday.

The changes are unlikely to rattle Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, which rules in a coalition with junior partner Komeito. The party, which has maintained a near-constant grip on the Diet since the end of World War II, tends to fare well in Japan’s agricultural heartland.

According to Michael Cucek, an adjunct professor at Temple University in Tokyo, the reforms are a drop in the bucket.

“This is a makeshift measure the LDP thinks is the minimum it can do to meet the standards set by the Supreme Court,” Cucek said.

Article 81 of Japan’s Constitution gives the top court the power to determine the constitutionality of any law, order, regulation or official act.

But there are practical limits on how the court’s rulings are enforced, and “the LDP has never been encumbered by the Supreme Court,” Cucek said.

In the first place, there is no need for Japan’s bicameral Diet to require a proportional representation system in both houses, according to Corey Wallace, a visiting postdoctoral fellow at the Free University of Berlin’s Graduate School of East Asian Studies.

“A system where the lower house has a one-to-one vote value and is thus a popular representation of the national electorate, and where the upper house acts as a break on this ‘popular’ house by giving some power to the regions, would make sense,” Wallace said.

“The public has not really paid much attention to this issue, thus the incentive for the LDP to do something radical to resolve the issue once and for all is very low,” he said.

To the candidates now tasked with campaigning in the merged constituencies, the change is plenty radical.

Tokushima native So Onishi, 53, has rented an apartment in Kochi since February for his upper house campaign as an independent, but complains the two-hour, 30-minute drive between the prefectural capitals puts a damper on his productivity.

Onishi’s rival, 36-year-old incumbent LDP lawmaker Yusuke Nakanishi, has enlisted his wife as a surrogate campaigner. Treating the race as a “simultaneous battle for two constituencies,” he has designed two distinct sets of pamphlets.

While the regional disparity is far from solved, the amended electoral law has also injected some youth into an electorate growing grayer year by year as Japan’s birthrate flounders.

Nationwide, an estimated 2.4 million people aged 18 and 19 will be able to vote in a Diet race for the first time next month after the amendment lowering the minimum age from 20 took effect Sunday.

The age was last lowered from 25 under the post-war U.S. occupation in 1946, the same year women gained the right to vote.

The education ministry repealed in October last year a 1969 ban on people aged 18 or older participating in campaigning and other political activities while they are still attending high school.

The move brings Japan into line with its international peers regarding legal recognitions of adulthood, and is a welcome step to counter the sheer demographic might of middle-aged and elderly voters, Cucek said.

“But you may see a lowering of the overall percentage of people who turn out to vote, if the rate of 36 percent of those in their 30s is anything to go by,” Cucek said.

The effect of the change on election outcomes and policymaking depends on whether young people actually make the trip to the polling booth, he said.


Page and Plant cleared of plagiarism charge in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” copyright infringement trial


Rock giant Led Zeppelin did not lift music that formed the basis for their iconic hit “Stairway to Heaven,” a jury found Thursday, clearing the iconic rock band of accusations that it stole the opening riff of one of rock music’s most celebrate songs.

The unanimous decision by the panel of eight men and women came after a week-long trial in which Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant took the stand to rebuff the claim of thievery and tell how they wrote their most famous song nearly half a century ago.

Guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant hugged members of their defense team after the clerk read the verdict from the four-man, four-woman jury.

At issue in the current case was whether the British band nicked  the opening passage of “Stairway” from “Taurus,” an instrumental song by singer Randy Wolfe, who wrote and performed with his L.A. rock outfit Spirit. Although largely forgotten today, Spirit gained some popularity in the late 1960s and 1970s for their novel fusion of rock with jazz and other styles of music. Wolfe, who as a teenager played regularly with Jimmy Hendrix, was considered a masterful guitarist.

The verdict was a departure from another high-profile infringement case last year in which R&B-soul singer Marvin Gaye’s family was awarded $7.4 million by a jury that decided pop stars Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ monster hit “Blurred Lines” had infringed on Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” A judge later reduced the award to $5.3 million.