New Prime Minister Naoto Kan has announced the lineup of the Democratic Party of Japan’s party leadership and the Cabinet. The lineup clearly shows his thinking: Give a fresh image to the party and Cabinet and win back people’s trust by diluting the influence of former DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, whose image suffered over allegations that his political funds management body violated the Political Funds Control Law.
Mr. Kan appointed Mr. Yukio Edano to the post of party secretary general. Mr. Edano had played a leading role in the Government Revitalization Unit (GRU), which scrutinizes budget requests and projects of nonprofit public service corporate bodies that receive public money, and has served as administrative reform minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet. Mr. Edano is highly critical of Mr. Ozawa’s political style, which aroused suspicions of pork-barrel spending and the revival of vested-interest politics.
A weak point of the DPJ lawmakers criticizing Mr. Ozawa is their lack of experience in organizing nationwide election campaigns as Mr. Ozawa did. It is Mr. Ozawa who helped lead the DPJ to victories in the 2007 Upper House election and in the 2009 Lower House election and has laid the groundwork for the DPJ’s campaign in the coming Upper House election. Mr. Edano’s appointment will improve the DPJ’s image. But he must prove his ability in the promotion of party unity and in the DPJ’s fight in the coming election.
Mr. Kan also revived the party’s policy affairs council and appointed Mr. Koichiro Genba, chief of the Lower House’s Financial Affairs Committee, as chief of the council. Mr. Genba will also serve as the minister in charge of the public servants’ system reform, gender equality, the “new concept of public service” and birthrate improvement.
Mr. Ozawa abolished the council to avert dual-decision making on policy matters by the Cabinet and the party. But this deprived many DPJ lawmakers of the opportunity to take part in working out policy measures and also led to concentration of power in Mr. Ozawa. We hope the new system will revive lively discussions in the party and improve communication between the party and the Cabinet, thus increasing transparency in decision making — something that was lacking during the days of Mr. Ozawa.
Mr. Kan retained 11 Cabinet members from the Hatoyama administration to flesh out policies left unfinished by the Hatoyama Cabinet and to avoid administrative confusion. Among the retained Cabinet members are Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, labor and welfare minister Akira Nagatsuma, Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, infrastructure and transport minister Seiji Maehara, and postal and financial issues minister Shizuka Kamei, head of the coalition partner Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party).
Mr. Kan replaced farm minister Hirotaka Akamatsu with Mr. Masahiko Yamada, senior vice farm minister of the Hatoyama administration, because of Mr. Akamatsu’s mishandling of the foot and mouth disease outbreak in Miyazaki Prefecture. Mr. Kan also appointed Ms. Renho, popular and well-known through her work with the GRU, as administrative reform minister.
In the Hatoyama administration, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano mishandled important issues such as the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station Okinawa and caused disastrous damage to Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. To avoid such a mistake, Mr. Kan appointed Mr. Yoshito Sengoku, national strategy minister of the Hatoyama Cabinet, a trusted politician well-versed in a wide range of policy matters and known for his criticism of Mr. Ozawa, as chief Cabinet secretary — a spokesman and coordinator for the Cabinet. We hope that he will do a good job.
Mr. Kan promoted Mr. Yoshihiko Noda, senior vice financial minister of the previous Cabinet, to finance minister. Mr. Kan (finance minister in the former Cabinet), Mr. Sengoku, Mr. Genba and Mr. Noda have been positive about discussing a consumption tax raise — a departure from Mr. Ozawa’s approach of giving priority to fulfilling DPJ campaign promises over reducing national debt. Mr. Kan and the DPJ must strictly prioritize the promises to effectively implement key DPJ policies without letting total spending swell.
In giving new direction to Japan’s financial reconstruction, Mr. Kan and his team should realize that relying only on an increase in the consumption tax will be unfair to the poor. They should consider making income taxes more progressive to help push income redistribution. Utmost efforts also must be made to keep the economy afloat and cut government waste.
Mr. Kan must exercise strong leadership to achieve “a strong economy, strong finances and strong social welfare” — his major goal. He must not ignore the will of the Okinawan people in trying to resolve the Futenma air base issue. Mr. Kan also must clearly enunciate his foreign and security policies.
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