Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Thursday tapped Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada as the party’s secretary general, in what amounts to a test of whether Kan can achieve party unity after Tuesday’s presidential election.
With that key party position filled, Kan is now racing to assemble the Cabinet lineup as early as Friday and get his government moving.
“Considering the people’s feelings that (pushed for) a change in government, I cannot be thinking of various things,” Okada told reporters after he met with Kan. “It is fate.”
Okada will replace DPJ Secretary General Yukio Edano, who was criticized for staying on after the party suffered a major defeat in the July Upper House election.
Attention had been focused on who would be appointed to the party’s No. 2 post. The secretary general controls party politics, from steering the Diet, holding the party’s purse strings and overlooking election affairs.
Among other key posts, Kan has tapped former Tottori Gov. Yoshiro Katayama, currently a Keio University professor, for the post of internal affairs minister, party sources said.
Kan also plans to keep Koichiro Genba as head of the DPJ’s policy research committee and sees Yoshio Hachiro as a good choice for DPJ Diet affairs chief, the sources said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, a close Kan ally and a vocal critic of party bigwig Ichiro Ozawa, who unsuccessfully challenged Kan in Tuesday’s party presidential race, is likely to retain his post, as are government revitalization minister Renho, Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda and financial services minister Shozaburo Jimi.
Touching on the key question of how he will treat Ozawa, Kan told reporters in the evening, “I may ask him various things.” His remark was taken as suggesting that Kan may give Ozawa a post of some kind.
Later in the day, a separate source said Kan offered posts as deputy party president to two people in the Ozawa camp — Ozawa himself and Azuma Koshiishi, the leader of the DPJ’s Upper House caucus. There was no immediate word on how they responded to the offer, which would create two such positions.
After the party’s presidential election, which saw lawmakers almost evenly divided between Kan and Ozawa, a former DPJ secretary general, the prime minister faced the hard task of picking someone who could symbolize party unity. Kan gained 206 votes to Ozawa’s 200 among the party’s Diet members.
Had Kan chosen a DPJ lawmaker from his own group, it would have triggered ill will among Ozawa supporters.
“The ability of each DPJ lawmaker is necessary to manage the government,” Okada said. “As secretary general, I would like to give consideration to ensure that everyone can exercise their skills.”
Okada added that he was not going to take into consideration who supported whom in the presidential election, promising to choose the right person for the job in the party lineup.
Several candidates reportedly turned down Kan’s offer of the difficult job, made harder by the divided Diet.
Okada was seen as a likely candidate since he voted for Kan but is not affiliated with any group. But Okada has been an outspoken critic of Ozawa, who is embroiled in money scandals, and the appointment is likely to trigger criticism from the DPJ heavyweight’s supporters.
“I think he is (a politician) well-versed in everything,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku. “I have respect for him.”
A native of Mie Prefecture, Okada joined the trade ministry after graduating from the University of Tokyo.
He was first elected as a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker to the Lower House in 1990. He left the LDP in 1993 and joined the now defunct Japan Renewal Party and New Frontier Party before joining the DPJ in 1998.
Okada served as DPJ secretary general starting in 2002 after he lost to Kan in a party presidential race. He became party president in 2004 after Kan stepped down over a pension nonpayment scandal.
Okada, however, resigned the next year after the party was defeated in the Lower House election when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dissolved the chamber for a snap election over postal privatization.
Okada has been foreign minister since last September, when the DPJ seized control of the government from the LDP. With various major diplomatic events coming up, including the United Nations General Assembly meeting next week, he had been keen to continue on as foreign minister.
His critics accuse him of failing to coordinate policies between Tokyo and Washington.