Does Cabinet have a silver lining?

by May Masangkay

Kyodo

It comes as no surprise that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who has been calling for unity within the Democratic Party of Japan, formed a Cabinet based not only on allies but lawmakers from various other factions.

But the question is: Can Noda and his “well-balanced” Cabinet offer a silver lining and finally put the country on track to recover from the March 11 disasters and ensuing nuclear crisis?

In addition to reconstructing disaster-hit areas, Noda’s other challenges include combating the adverse impact of the rising yen and overcoming deflation.

“It is true that I considered ‘balance’ in my Cabinet, but in the end I chose the right people for the right posts based on their abilities,” Noda said after his Cabinet was formally inaugurated.

To critics, Noda’s goal of emphasizing harmony in the Cabinet lineup is “inward-looking,” though some think his choices will create stability in the DPJ, at least for the time being.

“It’s a well-crafted Cabinet for the goals of party unity and (disaster) reconstruction,” said Koichi Nakano, an associate professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Noda’s new government is a big change from that of his predecessor, Naoto Kan, whose administration was criticized for widening the party’s internal divisions between supporters and opponents of DPJ kingpin Ichiro Ozawa.

Noda has claimed that his Cabinet lineup is proof he is acting on his pledge to reunite the party.

The disunity within the government and ruling party was Kan’s Achilles’ heel during his nearly 15-month administration. Noda appears to have cleared the first obstacle by appointing Azuma Koshiishi, a close ally of Ozawa, to the ruling party’s No. 2 post of secretary general. He also picked two Ozawa loyalists for his Cabinet.

Ozawa has given the new Cabinet his stamp of approval. His top aide quoted him as saying it is a “good lineup” that takes into account the various intraparty groups.

Mayumi Kurata, a writer who has advised the DPJ on campaign strategy, said that “Mr. Noda is not the type to exercise strong leadership, but I have hopes that he can be prudent in his decision-making while listening to opinions from various people.”

One of the major challenges Noda faces is finding common ground with the opposition parties.

Their cooperation is crucial for passing key legislation, including the third extra budget for fiscal 2011 to pay for full-fledged reconstruction work, as the opposition camp controls the Upper House in the divided Diet.

“We share the same views on key issues such as reconstruction,” Noda said, expressing hope that lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties will speed up discussions on how to proceed with cooperation.

But the opposition parties spared no time in voicing their discontent over the new Cabinet.

Tadamori Oshima, vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party, criticized the new government as an “inward-looking Cabinet that prioritized creating a balance within the (DPJ).”

Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, said there is a “risk of (Noda’s Cabinet) splitting up” as its members’ political beliefs are “uncoordinated.” The Cabinet lineup is simply aimed “at preventing rebellion within the (ruling) party,” she said.

Experts also worry about potential problems that Noda and his team may encounter in the coming months.

“Looking at the Noda Cabinet, it is very weak on social issues that the DPJ based its successful 2009 election campaign on, such as inequalities in society,” Sophia University’s Nakano said.

Sengoku gets new post

The ruling Democratic Party of Japan on Saturday appointed former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku as deputy chief of its Policy Research Committee, a newly created post, party officials said.

Sengoku, who was involved in drafting the DPJ’s social security reform proposal, which advocates hiking taxes, will assist Seiji Maehara, the committee’s chairman.

His appointment, however, may draw opposition from DPJ lawmakers loyal to party power broker Ichiro Ozawa.

Members of Ozawa’s group are opposed to raising taxes, and are urging the party leadership to prioritize cutting wasteful government spending before discussing tax hikes.

Noda and senior DPJ officials plan to decide on vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries on Monday.