Shape of DPJ rule emerging

Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama, the prime minister-in-waiting, has moved to fill key party posts and the next Cabinet with political heavyweights. He wants his party as a unit, rather than individual politicians, to play the leading role in developing policy, thus taking the initiative away from bureaucrats.

Mr. Hatoyama needs to demonstrate leadership to achieve this goal. He will have to exercise courage to control his political comrades. On their part, DPJ heavyweights should cooperate with Mr. Hatoyama in a constructive manner and refrain from disruptive behavior.

Mr. Hatoyama has picked DPJ acting leader Mr. Ichiro Ozawa as secretary general of the party, the No. 2 post. He will appoint Mr. Naoto Kan, another DPJ acting leader, as state minister in charge of the National Strategy Bureau, a policymaking body to be created directly under the prime minister; and DPJ secretary general Katsuya Okada as foreign minister. Mr. Hatoyama will also appoint close aide Hirofumi Hirano as chief Cabinet secretary.

Mr. Hirohisa Fujii, a supreme adviser for the party, is a strong candidate for the post of finance minister. He served as finance minister of the Hosokawa and Hata Cabinets — non-Liberal Democratic Party administrations from August 1993 to June 1994.

The selection of Mr. Ozawa as party secretary general is logical in view of his achievements and ability. As party chief, Mr. Ozawa led the DPJ to a victory in the July 2007 Upper House election, causing the LDP-Komeito ruling coalition to lose a majority in the chamber. That laid the foundation for the party to prepare to take the helm of government. In the Aug. 30 Lower House election, as election campaign chief, he was credited with having brought a landslide victory to the party, garnering 308 seats and crushing the LDP-Komeito bloc. Mr. Ozawa clearly has made the greatest contribution to ending LDP rule and bringing about a change of government.

Next year, the DPJ faces an Upper House election and, as Mr. Hatoyama said, the party must pull out all the stops to win. If the LDP-Komeito bloc wins a majority in the chamber, the DPJ-led government will encounter great difficulty conducting Diet business. If the DPJ, now just short of a majority in the chamber, manages to come out ahead, the DPJ-led government’s foundation will be solidified.

As early as Oct. 25, there will be Upper House by-elections in Shizuoka and Kanagawa prefectures. Defeats in these elections would cast a bad spell on the new government.

It is a logical step for Mr. Hatoyama to have Mr. Ozawa carry out strong election campaigns as party secretary general. Mr. Hatoyama also has made it clear that Mr. Ozawa is entrusted with prerogatives over party personnel affairs and operations as well as the party’s Diet affairs.

Of the 308 DPJ Lower House members, 143 are newcomers, many of whom are expected to join Mr. Ozawa’s group. The number of its members is expected to swell to some 150, forming the largest intraparty group. Given his prerogatives as party secretary general and the size of his group, Mr. Ozawa will be able to exert a big influence over the whole party, which now has more than 400 seats in the Diet.

He must ensure that his behavior does not cause friction within the party and with the Cabinet. He also must educate newcomers on behavior that will not undermine the reputation of the party. It will be important that he keep in mind a promise included in the DPJ’s election manifesto — centralizing decision-making on policy matters in the Cabinet. When the LDP was in power, the Cabinet was unable to decide on policy matters unless they were approved by party committees. So, if Mr. Ozawa uses his power to influence policy decision-making, the unified approach will be broken.

The National Strategy Bureau headed by Mr. Kan will have the responsibility of creating a vision for both domestic policy and diplomacy, prioritizing policy to realize the the vision and working out a budget outline. The problem is that the bureau’s organizational setup, power and functions and its relations with the ruling parties — which will include the Social Democratic Party and the New People’s Party (Kokumin Shinto) — have yet to be crystallized. These two minor parties are expected to form a coalition government with the DPJ.

The SDP has called for creation of a consultative body among the ruling parties. But this will run counter to the DPJ’s goal of unifying the policy decision-making process under the Cabinet. Instead of a consultative body, the two minor parties should agree to join the National Strategy Bureau and make adjustments within the Cabinet.

The DPJ should stick to the goal of unifying the policy decision-making process under the Cabinet.