December 17, 2007 / 12:51 PM / 12 years ago

Japan PM apologizes over missing pension premiums

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda apologized on Monday for his ruling party’s handling of a public pensions crisis, after seeing his support ratings tumble in polls.

Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda speaks during a news conference on the sidelines of the 13th Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Singapore November 21, 2007. Fukuda apologized on Monday for his ruling party's handling of a public pensions crisis, after seeing his support ratings tumble in polls. REUTERS/Tim Chong

Fukuda offered the apology after the health minister admitted last week that the government might never be able to sort out some of the 50 million public pension accounts found earlier to have been mishandled by officials.

“It is true that there were misleading expressions,” Fukuda said of a flyer prepared by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for its campaign for a July upper house election, according to Kyodo news agency.

The LDP pledged in the flyer to sort out the pensions muddle by the end of March. “I must apologize,” Fukuda was quoted as telling reporters.

Public outrage over the bungled pension records was a big factor in the ruling camp’s huge loss in the July poll.

Fukuda himself provoked public anger over the pension crisis last week, when he said that the ruling party did not make a campaign pledge to clean up the mess so quickly.

“I don’t think it was such a big deal which we could call a ‘public promise’,” he told reporters last week.

Recent national surveys of voters by domestic media showed public support for Fukuda’s cabinet slipping mover than 10 percentage points from a month ago.

According to a poll released by the Nikkei business daily on Monday, the approval rating for the cabinet dropped 12 percentage points from last month to 43 percent.

Nikkei attributed the drop mainly to the government’s handling of the missing pension premiums and a high-profile bribery scandal involving a former top Defence Ministry official.

Japanese prosecutors last month arrested a former Vice Defence Minister over suspicions he had taken bribes from a defence contractor.

Reporting by Teruaki Ueno; Editing by Alex Richardson

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