Okada snubs offer, cites ‘party unity’

Kyodo

Former Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Katsuya Okada apparently declined an offer by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to join his Cabinet out of respect for Noda’s hope to strengthen party unity, several ruling party lawmakers said Friday.

“I’ll keep working as a rank and filer,” Okada said.

He is known to have taken the initiative in suspending the party membership of former DPJ leader and power broker Ichiro Ozawa following his indictment in January over a political money scandal.

As a result, many lawmakers in the party’s biggest internal group, which is led by Ozawa, are strongly critical of Okada.

In the DPJ presidential election earlier this week, Okada served as an adviser to Noda’s campaign office.

Noda, who was elected DPJ leader Monday and prime minister Tuesday, has called for strengthening party unity and picked Ozawa ally Azuma Koshiishi, head of the DPJ’s Upper House caucus, as party secretary general.

Noda first asked Okada to take up the post of chief Cabinet secretary, but he declined the offer, many DPJ lawmakers said.

After that, Noda continued talks with Okada over the formation of his Cabinet. At one point, Okada was believed to have been chosen as finance minister.

Finally, Okada recommended Jun Azumi, the party’s former Diet affairs chief, for that post, which Noda went along with, the lawmakers said.

Meanwhile, sources said Ozawa was satisfied with the Cabinet lineup as it emerged Friday, saying: “It’s nicely organized. (Noda) is trying hard to satisfy many people.”

An executive in Ozawa’s group said he accepts the fact that Okada, who took the initiative in suspending Ozawa’s party membership, was not included in the Cabinet lineup as a message of reconciliation.

Opposition against lineup

The opposition camp on Friday slammed Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s new Cabinet, describing it as “inward-looking” and “drab,” while even certain members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan expressed concern over its “lack of a fresh image and appeal.”

Tadamori Oshima, vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters he believes Noda’s “inward-looking” Cabinet is intended to “balance power” between the ruling party’s bitterly divided internal groups.

“The new Cabinet does not send out any (positive) message to the people,” he said.

Toshimitsu Motegi, head of the LDP’s public relations section, said, “Many Cabinet members are not well known to the general public and the lineup appears unspectacular.”

Meanwhile, Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of New Komeito, voiced his doubts over the new Cabinet members, saying their “caliber is unproven.”

Social Democratic Party chief Mizuho Fukushima predicted that Noda’s Cabinet will have difficulty pulling in the same direction, as its members’ political beliefs are “incompatible.”

Yoichi Masuzoe, leader of Shinto Kaikaku (New Renaissance Party), said the lineup appears “unable to deal with the challenges facing Japan.”

Tadayoshi Ichida, secretary general of the Japanese Communist Party, blasted the new Cabinet as an attempt to kowtow to the LDP and New Komeito to win their cooperation.

In the DPJ, meanwhile, Diet affairs chief Hirofumi Hirano lauded Noda for taking into account the need to unify the ruling party’s pro- and anti-Ichiro Ozawa factions when deciding on his selection of ministers.

According to Ozawa’s aides, the party kingpin welcomed the new Cabinet lineup, saying Noda “paid attention to all groups.”

Ritsuo Hosokawa, who served as health, labor and welfare minister in former Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s administration, forecast that the new government will create party unity and “make steadfast progress.”

But a senior member of an intraparty group led by DPJ policy chief Seiji Maehara criticized the new Cabinet lineup for “lacking freshness” and expressed doubt as to whether it will help the ruling party regain the public’s support.

Noda-Obama chat

Prime Minister-elect Yoshihiko Noda and U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday agreed to deepen the alliance between the two countries and try to arrange one-to-one talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York later this month, the Foreign Ministry said.

Noda told Obama over the phone that the alliance between the nations is the cornerstone of Tokyo’s foreign policy. and it is his belief the long-standing partnership is also essential for peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region, the ministry said.

“I had good talks (with Obama),” Noda told reporters at the Finance Ministry shortly after the phone conversation.

Obama congratulated Noda on his Tuesday election in the Diet as prime minister.