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The reshuffled Cabinet of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi will literally have to lead Japan into a new millennium fraught with uncertainties. Its immediate task is to solidify the nascent recovery of the long-foundering Japanese economy and put it on the path of sustained growth. To meet this demand, Mr. Obuchi has retained Mr. Kiichi Miyazawa as finance minister and Mr. Taichi Sakaiya as director general of the Economic Planning Agency.

The two men’s continuous service in these key Cabinet posts ensures the continuity of Mr. Obuchi’s economic policies, offering the public a better and clearer perspective on the government’s tactical approach to current economic problems. The Bank of Japan’s monthly report for September, released on Monday, apparently endorses the analysis that the nation’s business executives are now confident of the government’s macroeconomic policy, in which the two economics ministers have been playing key roles.

One more focal point in Tuesday’s Cabinet change is the appointment of Mr. Yohei Kono, former president of the Liberal Democratic Party and also former foreign minister, to that same Cabinet post. Mr. Kono, one of the most seasoned political leaders in the governing party, is the best choice for the task of steering the nation’s diplomacy, which will have to efficiently meet demands for even more active contributions — not only economically, but politically and otherwise — to the international community. Specifically, Mr. Kono’s caliber as a political leader will be first put to the test in managing negotiations with Russia for a peace treaty, for which 2000 has been set as the target year.

Furthermore, Mr. Obuchi has obviously tried to appoint the fittest persons to those Cabinet posts that will have to face demanding policy problems. In addition to Mr. Miyazawa, Mr. Sakaiya and Mr. Kono, such appointments include Health and Welfare Minister Yuya Niwa and Defense Agency Director General Tsutomu Kawara. They have been reappointed to posts in which they had already demonstrated their abilities. But this is partly because, starting with the next Diet session, Cabinet ministers and parliamentary vice ministers (who are not bureaucrats) will have to reply to all questions in the Diet themselves, abolishing the current practice of letting bureaucrats often speak on behalf of their ministers.

At the same time, however, it is true that factional considerations were undeniable factors in deciding on the final Cabinet lineup. Such considerations are believed to have been an element even in the selection of individuals deemed most fitted to a particular post. Informed sources do not deny that the intraparty factions that voted for Mr. Obuchi in the last party presidential election were favored in allocating Cabinet portfolios, while the factions led by Mr. Koichi Kato, former LDP secretary general, and Mr. Taku Yamasaki, former chairman of the policy research council, were treated rather coldly.

In fact, the LDP’s factionalism showed clear signs of revival in the process of the Cabinet formation. In the wake of the party’s stunning setback in the last Upper House election, many rank-and-file members of the party attributed the defeat to the negative role of factionalism, which they argued stood in the way of constructive party-wide policy debate. This, it is said, deprived the LDP of any image of a policy-oriented entity. As a result, new policy study groups that cut across factions came into play, giving increasing signs that LDP factionalism may be changing, if not about disappear.

Numbers are most important in LDP factionalism. This is only natural, because faction leaders seeking the party presidency must expand their factions. That is why, at election time, they help out new members financially and in other ways, and why, at the time of a Cabinet reshuffle, they try to secure Cabinet and party posts for key members. This principle of factionalism has proved its resilience throughout the LDP presidential election and the reshuffling of the Cabinet.

This peculiar characteristic of the LDP — that the party, for many years, has been a grouping of factions — has now effectively served to draw New Komeito (in addition to the Liberal Party) to its side to launch a tripartite coalition government. The three parties reached basic agreement on some key policies just before the start of the new Cabinet. Mr. Obuchi and his reshuffled Cabinet must prove that the agreement was not simply an expedient, designed only to acquire an absolute majority in the Diet.

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