Despite Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s pledge to create the “best lineup to overcome the crisis,” political pundits were skeptical that replacing Yoshito Sengoku with Yukio Edano as chief Cabinet secretary and taking on outsider Kaoru Yosano will help his team solve the ruling party’s biggest problems.
Kan’s priority is to persuade the opposition camp to pass the fiscal 2011 budget and related bills when the divided Diet convenes for the year’s first session this month.
In reconfiguring his Cabinet Friday, Kan was forced to sack Sengoku, his right-hand man, and transport minister Sumio Mabuchi in the face of the opposition camp’s condemnation of the pair’s perceived missteps in handling a recent diplomatic row with China.
But it remains to be seen if Kan will be able to get the opposition to cooperate in the Upper House, where it now has the power to kill or delay government-sponsored bills.
Observers also doubt Edano will be able to form working relations with either the opposition or with uncooperative members in the Democratic Party of Japan.
“The chief Cabinet secretary is the pivot point in the Cabinet and a coordinator. Mr. Edano is a sharp debater, but I’m not sure if he can coordinate policies behind the scenes,” said Norihiko Narita, a political science professor at Surugadai University in Saitama.
Edano is known as a sharp-tongued, logical debater in the Diet and is one of Kan’s few longtime allies. The DPJ’s defeat in last summer’s Upper House election, however, took place with Edano at the helm as secretary general, damaging his credentials as the party’s top negotiator in a divided Diet.
On Friday, Edano appeared well aware of the criticism circulating in Nagata-cho, where behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing often proves the key to success.
“I was confused and hesitant when the prime minister asked me to take up the post,” Edano said after announcing the new Cabinet. “So I asked the prime minister to appoint the much-experienced (Hirohisa) Fujii to be deputy chief Cabinet secretary to support me.”
When the Cabinet was last revamped in September, the public support rate soared after Kan purged Ichiro Ozawa loyalists from the Cabinet to distance his team from the heavyweight’s lingering fundraising scandal.
Although Kan appears to have kept his Ozawa ban in place this time, most of his Cabinet remains intact and is unlikely to produce the same polling gains. Now some say the anti-Ozawa stance has widened the internal DPJ rift and weakened Kan’s power base.
Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University, said the anti-Ozawa posture is misguided.
“If Kan really wanted to create the ‘best lineup,’ he should have appointed (capable members), even if they are close to Ozawa,” Nakano said.
The other major change in the Cabinet is the appointment of Kaoru Yosano to state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, a day after he left the minor opposition party Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan).
Kan is apparently hoping the political heavyweight’s appointment will help spearhead nonpartisan debate on reforming the social welfare and tax regimes, a theme he campaigned vigorously on in his bid to become prime minister.
Nakano of Sophia University said some in the DPJ and the government may welcome the former Liberal Democratic Party veteran’s presence. Yosano, after all, has handled many Cabinet positions over the years, including chief Cabinet secretary, and has a thorough knowledge of policy.
But Yosano’s past efforts to marshal power leave his effectiveness in doubt, Nakano said.
“(Yosano) couldn’t even persuade (Tachiagare) members to join the coalition. How could such a person coordinate discussion with other opposition parties?” he asked.
At a news conference Thursday, LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki brushed off questions about Yosano’s new post as “not worth commenting” on.
Yosano left the LDP last April to form Tachiagare Nippon after castigating Tanigaki for his failure to improve the LDP’s opinion poll numbers.
Tachiagare Nippon leader Takeo Hiranuma said Thursday his party will not agree to nonpartisan debate just because Yosano is taking the initiative.
All in all, Friday’s Cabinet reshuffle indicates the real intention was to replace Sengoku and Mabuchi, who were hit with nonbinding censure motions in the House of Councilors in November.
Eleven of the 17 ministers retained their posts, leaving only four new faces in the new Cabinet — Edano, Yosano, Justice Minister Satsuki Eda and Kansei Nakano, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission.
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