In contrast to the relative ease with which he managed to keep his post as head of the Liberal Democratic Party, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto faces a number of challenges in his second term as head of state.
He will need strong leadership and determination to honor repeated pledges to carry out “six big reforms” geared at the nation’s administrative, fiscal, monetary, economic, social and education systems.
Hashimoto, who launched the reforms after forming his second Cabinet last November, has since reiterated his belief that the reforms are indispensable in preparing the nation for the 21st century, given the considerable socioeconomic changes over the past decades. High public expectations for his reform pledges are generally expected to be the reason for the relatively strong support Hashimoto currently enjoys.
Recent surveys conducted by several national dailies show that the percentage of those who support the Hashimoto administration has risen to more than 50 percent. This largely explains why Hashimoto was uncontested in the LDP presidential election.
Among the six reforms, his foremost task is overhauling the administration, says Takeshi Sasaki, a professor of politics at the University of Tokyo. A preliminary report compiled by the Administrative Reform Council, headed by Hashimoto, earlier this month is merely a framework for a reform plan, he says.
“Writing a blueprint and working out a feasible, detailed plan are completely different things,” Sasaki said. “So far, it is unpredictable who will be and can be in charge of such a demanding task.”
Apart from problems related to who should undertake the difficult job, the interim report has stirred controversy both within the LDP and within its non-Cabinet allies — the Social Democratic Party and New Party Sakigake. Last Sept. 5, lawmakers from four subcommittees of the LDP’s policy research council jointly demanded that LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato unite the party leadership and urge the government to proceed with the reform in a careful manner and in close consultation with the LDP. More precisely, the Diet members expressed their strong opposition to the proposed breakup of the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry to privatize two of its three services.
The government panel recommended that “kampo” life insurance services be privatized and that postal savings be eventually privatized while mail delivery service be maintained as state-run. The SDP and Sakigake are opposed to some of the proposals included in the interim report, particularly to a recommendation that the Finance Ministry virtually retain both fiscal and financial functions. It was proposed despite an earlier agreement among the three parties to the contrary.