Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More on the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System (Featuring Yōichi Masuzoe the Teflon Minister)

The Yomiuri poll continues to amaze me over Yōichi Masuzoe, the Health, Welfare and Labor Minister overseeing the troubled cleanup of the missing public pension accounts - poll results: 34.9% positive grades, 62.7% negative grades - since only 11.8% agreed with the opposition that he should resign, while 84.1% said that he didn’t have to. The DPJ leadership has always made clear that a House of Councilors censure resolution will turn on public opinion. It appears that he remains in the clear.

The public confusion over the rollout of the Late-Term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System does not seem to have hit him yet either. That is not too surprising, since mainstream dailies (with the notable exception of the Sankei) had not been giving the troubles heavy coverage until quite recently*. I believe that this is changing.

Moreover, public pension account holders are paid on the 15th, and today is the first occasion of the deductions under the new Insurance System. The opposition hopes to make this a bigger problem than it is by connecting it in the minds of the public with the public pension accounts scandal. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll see how successful they are. I suspect that Mr. Masuzoe will escape any serious consequences. It will generate some negative coverage for the Fukuda administration if the media goes around quizzing the recipients, but I doubt that it will translate to a plus for the DPJ, or any part of the opposition for that matter, except perhaps the Communists

Having said that, I’ll have to alter my assessment of the political impact slightly, now that we’re seeing some serious coverage. I don’t see the deduction issue having a serious impact, but more broadly, the rollout reports feed into the now-familiar incompetence issue adding to the image of a bumbling, indecisive administration. However, that’s an already well-established trope, and these latest troubles are a temporary blip compared to the other far more serious problems of the coalition and more specifically the Fukuda administration.

* I believe that at least part of the reason for this is that the subject is too complicated to digest without help from the authorities (this leaves you vulnerable to spin) and the facts of the rollout are too diffuse to capture without some serious digging (this means that management must decide whether it’s worthwhile to send reporters out there beyond their regular beats and kasha clubs).

The Yomiuri appeared to have been going particularly lightly (though it did begin hitting in earnest over the weekend), which some observers may attribute to its pro-government stance. Note that Sankei, although more conservative in some respects than the Yomiuri, always hits hard at incompetence and corruption in government and more generally the public sector, as well as at any backsliding from and during attempts at reform. However, for me, the evidence is too circumstantial to say anything more definitive. DPJ advocates will be less unsure.

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