Take the right direction toward change
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's new administration got up and running Wednesday, though public sentiment seems split between expectation and anxiety over the nation's political future.
Members of the new Cabinet should not allow themselves to feel any exhilaration over the birth of this historic government.
Confusion caused by the transfer of power also must be avoided, as the new government will have to tackle such urgent issues as pulling the nation out of the global recession, designing the future of the social security system and developing a new strategic foreign policy. To achieve tangible results, all of these tasks must be conducted at full power.
Be flexible over manifesto vows
The public is expecting the new Cabinet to change the Liberal Democratic Party's style of politics, which had hit an impasse. This desire for change was made clear by the results of the recent House of Representatives election.
However, people also are concerned that excessive changes might lead to problems. The new Cabinet should take a levelheaded approach to continuing the basic policies of its predecessors with regard to the future course of the nation.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan should not cling too tenaciously to the pledges it made for the lower house election. People who voted the DPJ into power do not necessarily support all of these promises.
There also are some public doubts as to whether financial resources can be secured for many of the DPJ manifesto pledges and whether some of these pledges are really feasible, including a child-allowance system, toll-free expressways and targets for cutting the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. According to opinion polls, more people than not oppose many of these election vows.
The DPJ apparently is keen to avoid criticism for breaking its promises. However, it would be even worse for the DPJ to fall into an election-pledge trap of its own making, which could cause irreversible damage. It is vital for the party to have the courage to reexamine its pledges and revise those in need of improvement.
In the new Cabinet, DPJ Acting President Naoto Kan became deputy prime minister and national strategy minister, and former DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada assumed the post of foreign minister.
Hirohisa Fujii, the party's top adviser, was appointed finance minister, while former DPJ President Seiji Maehara was named construction and transport minister.
Hatoyama apparently has taken the power balance of intraparty groups into consideration and placed people who have proven themselves in the past in important posts.
Though the makeup of the new Cabinet seems solid, it seems to lack a certain freshness.
At a press conference held in the evening, Hatoyama underscored his intention to end the practice of excessive government dependence on bureaucrats with regard to policy-making.
Key to his success will be the national strategy bureau and the administrative renewal council, to be administered by Kan and Administrative Renewal Minister Yoshito Sengoku, respectively.
The national strategy bureau--for now--will take on the jobs of recompiling the fiscal 2009 supplementary budget and setting out policies for compiling the budget for the next fiscal year.
Putting the economy firmly on the path to recovery is the top priority of all economic policies, and finding financial sources to fund new initiatives that come with huge price tags is of crucial importance. Hatoyama, therefore, must ensure his new administration juggles these two difficult goals.
There are concerns over possible frictions between the national strategy bureau and ministries and agencies, as the extent of the national strategy bureau's authority has yet to be established. Kan should work in close consultation with Fujii on budgetary matters.
The administrative renewal council is charged with a "zero-based review" of the work done by ministries, agencies and independent administrative institutions. Powerful political leadership that can weed out resistance by bureaucrats and relevant organizations is indispensable in terms of plunging the scalpel into the vested interests of each government entity and effecting the large-scale transfer of work performed by the central government to local governments and the private sector.
Labor unions that support the DPJ could be a stumbling block to reform. In addition to Sengoku, Hatoyama himself must exercise leadership in this endeavor.
To enable politicians to assume leadership in policy-making, it is essential to have a robust Cabinet lineup, with key ministers keeping their posts until this Cabinet resigns--a departure from the LDP's practice of constantly reshuffling the cabinet.
Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Akira Nagatsuma stepped into the limelight two years ago, when he grilled the government over its sloppy pension-record-keeping. Nagatsuma is now tasked with directing the ministry instead of leveling a barrage of criticism against it. He will be tested on whether he has the ability to make bureaucrats dance to his tune.
Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima was appointed as state minister in charge of consumer affairs and the declining birthrate. Her appointment likely is aimed at reflecting the viewpoint of women and consumers in general with regard to the government's policies. We hope Fukushima will try to implement a well-balanced administration that does not express views that largely differ from the government line in order to make her party's presence felt.
Meanwhile, People's New Party leader Shizuka Kamei was named state minister in charge of financial services and postal reform.
While it is necessary to revamp the somewhat flawed Japan Post Holdings Co. led by Yoshifumi Nishikawa and review the privatization of postal services by taking end-users' convenience into consideration, Kamei should not digress from the original purpose of the privatization, and should refrain from any attempt to revive the huge financial institution at the government's initiative.
Hatoyama should not easily be pushed into agreeing to policies put forward by the DPJ's coalition partners--the SDP and the PNP.
Tests lie ahead
In terms of foreign policy, Hatoyama's first real test will come next week during a visit to the United States.
Concerning the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, Hatoyama says the mission will not automatically be extended beyond its mid-January expiration. If this is the case, the prime minister should strive to find another way to continue the mission rather than by "the automatic extension of the expiration."
The realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, including the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture, also is an important issue. We believe steady implementation of the agreement between Japan and the United States is the fastest way to reduce the burden on local governments in the prefecture.
With regard to North Korean nuclear issues, Washington recently has shown its readiness to hold direct talks with Pyongyang. In order to get North Korea back around the six-party table and obtain concessions from Pyongyang, the Japanese government needs to steadily implement a U.N. Security Council sanction resolution and continue to put pressure on North Korea.
Hatoyama also should reaffirm Japan's close cooperation with China, South Korea, Russian and the United States and try to pass into law as quickly as possible a bill to permit inspections of cargo carried by North Korean ships and aircraft.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 17, 2009)