DPJ seeks coalition balancing act

Party wants unified policy while keeping smaller partners happy

by and

With a little more than a week to go before Democratic Party of Japan President Yukio Hatoyama is elected prime minister, media attention is focused on whether the DPJ will be able to create a unified policymaking system while building a stable relationship with two smaller allies.

As Hatoyama began naming senior DPJ members to key Cabinet posts, it has been reported he will ask the leaders of the DPJ’s two likely partners, the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) to join the Cabinet, a move intended to help the envisioned coalition function more smoothly.

“With representatives of each party entering the Cabinet, policymaking will be coordinated within the government,” DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada said Sunday. Okada is likely to be the foreign minister.

Policy talks between the SDP and Kokumin Shinto have encountered difficulties as the three parties remain apart on key issues, particularly on foreign policy and national security.

The SDP opposes any overseas deployment of the Self-Defense Forces, while Kokumin Shinto wants to reverse the postal privatization initiated by the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc.

Furthermore, the two smaller parties have called for the formation of a policy coordination panel outside the government whose recommendations would be reflected in Cabinet decisions.

The DPJ fears that setting up such a panel would give the two minor parties too much sway over policy decisions and would result in the same dual decision-making structure that was the legacy of LDP rule.

By bringing SDP and Kokumin Shinto leaders into the Cabinet, the DPJ hopes to unify policymaking within the administration, as it pledged to do in its campaign platform.

Hatoyama also said he would consider hosting a conference within the ruling coalition, “where party heads could communicate with each other.”

Experts have praised the DPJ’s effort to bring other parties into the fold but caution that as the majority party in the Lower House it has a mandate to govern and should therefore be the driving force behind policymaking.

At a recent news conference hosted by the 21st Century Special Study Group, Jun Iio, a political science professor at the National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies, said a coalition should be formed “after confirming that government administration is centered on the DPJ, and that relations between the parties are not equal.”

“It’s naturally important to include policies that are significant to the fundamental identity of the coalition partners, but they shouldn’t be sticking their heads in all aspects of government administration,” Iio said.

Forming a consensus with the SDP and Kokumin Shinto is imperative for the DPJ, but determining the appropriate power balance between the Cabinet and the parties is also key.

The 50-plus years of Liberal Democratic Party rule saw top party officials establish a stranglehold over policymaking by the Cabinet.

Only a handful of prime ministers, including Junichiro Koizumi, managed to silence opponents within the LDP.

When the LDP was in charge, bureaucrats drafted bills and consulted with the party’s policymaking body, where LDP members would ask for revisions. In some cases, drafts were discussed among a handful of LDP lawmakers before being submitted to the policy council. In others, bureaucrats visited influential lawmakers at their offices beforehand to seek prior consent for proposed bills.

Party members with vested interests also used the party’s Executive Council, a group of senior members, to ensure those interests were protected. Finally, the Cabinet would seek agreement from other ruling coalition members before finally submitting the bill to the Diet.

This style of lawmaking is unique to Japan. The presidential system in the U.S., for example, grants executive power to the president and the White House staff, while in the U.K., senior officials of the ruling party join the Cabinet after the prime minister is elected.

The British parliamentary system, which the Japanese government is partly modeled after, prevents multiple centers of power from developing, and allows the Cabinet, comprising the most powerful lawmakers, to make policy.

The DPJ proposes to make this standard practice in Japan as well, calling for the prime minister to have greater authority.

Arguing that the Cabinet should predominate over other bodies, the DPJ has proposed incorporating the party’s policy council into the Cabinet.

While some say Japan’s past practices enabled the LDP and the ministries to work efficiently in drawing up bills, the structure is also criticized for hindering decisive policymaking and blurring the roles of the Cabinet and the ruling party.

In the government led by Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu from 1989 to 1991, for example, Ichiro Ozawa, who was then LDP secretary general, used his power as a member of the largest faction to control policymaking by the prime minister.

Again in 1993, Ozawa emerged as the puppet master in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa. Ozawa played a major role in meetings of coalition executives at the time, often clashing with Chief Cabinet Secretary Masayoshi Takemura and others.

This alternative center of policymaking weakened the prime minister’s authority in both cases, creating discord in the Cabinet, experts say.

After naming him secretary general of the DPJ last week, Hatoyama insisted that Ozawa will not interfere with policymaking.

But reforming a decades-long practice won’t be easy and many believe old habits in the Diet will die hard.

At a news conference last week, state minister Akira Amari said the DPJ’s pledge could end in failure.

“The DPJ said a unification of the Cabinet and the ruling party is of utmost importance. But if (Ozawa) does not join the Cabinet, it will obviously become a two-headed structure,” Amari said.

No Cabinet lineup yet

STAFF REPORT Democratic Party of Japan President Yukio Hatoyama on Monday put off announcing his key appointments for the party and Cabinet, saying it will have to wait until the stalled policy talks between the DPJ’s two small allies are successfully concluded.

Speaking to reporters at DPJ headquarters after a meeting with the party’s leadership, Hatoyama said he sought the party executives’ consent for making deputy leader Ichiro Ozawa the DPJ’s next secretary general.

“We talked about the future of the coalition talks, and also about appointing Mr. Ozawa as the party’s secretary general,” Hatoyama said.

He has already nominated Ozawa to the post, saying his experience will be necessary to ensure victory in the Upper House election next year.

Hatoyama said the executives gave the go-ahead, but he stressed that other personnel decisions can’t be made until the DPJ reaches an agreement on forming a coalition with the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto.

“I’m hoping a decision can be reached, possibly as early as tomorrow, between the secretaries general of the three parties,” he said.