Kan must present clear national strategy
Japan's new administration must not repeat the mistakes of the previous cabinet, which betrayed people's expectations as it lost its way and stumbled from blunder to blunder. The new government must drastically change the policies and policy methods adopted by its predecessor.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan's Cabinet was inaugurated Tuesday. At a press conference the same day, Kan stressed the importance of economic management. "We'll build a strong economy, strong government finances and strong social security programs at the same time," he said. Kan also said that on the diplomatic front, his administration would uphold the principle that the Japan-U.S. alliance forms the foundation of Japan's foreign policy.
However, these explanations still leave unclear what form Kan wants the country to take and what specific measures he plans to implement. As an initial step, he should present a comprehensive national strategy.
Boost Prime Minister's Office
The new prime minister has made no secret of his intention to rid the government of the influence of Ichiro Ozawa, the former Democratic Party of Japan secretary general, through his choices of Cabinet members and key party posts. This has buoyed the party's public support rate and raised expectations the nation could be about to enter a period of "new politics."
When Kan was a member of the opposition bloc, he earned a reputation as a skilled polemicist feared by government officials. However, after the DPJ came to power last year, Kan failed to make any substantial achievements as a member of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's Cabinet, where he served as state minister in charge of national policy and then as finance minister. As prime minister, Kan will have to steadily produce tangible results. Failure to do so will see public support quickly slip away.
Since 2007, this country has seen prime ministers come and go each year. Such instability makes it impossible to reform key areas, such as fiscal reconstruction, the social security system and decentralization. Japan has been unable to craft relations of trust with leaders of other countries, which could erode this nation's status in the international community.
Yoshito Sengoku, state minister in charge of national policy in the Hatoyama Cabinet, has been appointed chief cabinet secretary, a pivotal Cabinet post.
Though the previous Cabinet called for politicians to lead the government, the Prime Minister's Office, which was supposed to spearhead this effort, did not function properly. Hatoyama did not exert leadership, and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano was unable to play his role as a coordinator in the government.
Consequently, many bureaucrats have become very self-protective--they do not act until they receive instructions from politicians.
Kan and Sengoku must reflect on this point and enable politicians to make good use of the bureaucratic structure while ensuring the Prime Minister's Office still makes decisions on key issues.
Cooperation between the government and ruling parties also will be important. In the previous government, Ozawa often overturned cabinet decisions. In effect, the principle that the Cabinet would uniformly make policy decisions turned out to exist in name only.
To rectify this situation, Kan and Sengoku will need to keep in close contact with DPJ Secretary General Yukio Edano and Policy Research Committee Chairman Koichiro Gemba, who also serves as state minister in charge of civil service reform.
The new government's most pressing task is to review the pledges the DPJ made for last year's House of Representatives election. The pledges included a lineup of handout policies, such as child-rearing allowances, and abolition of expressway tolls.
Time to discuss tax reform
The opposition Liberal Democratic Party intends to include a plan to raise the consumption tax rate to 10 percent in its manifesto for the upcoming House of Councillors election. However, the DPJ decided not to raise the consumption tax rate until the next lower house election. We think this is an irresponsible stance for a party in power.
Kan touched on fiscal reconstruction at his press conference. "It'll be necessary to hold discussions among all parties and groups," he said. If Kan means what he says, he should encourage full-fledged negotiations with the LDP on tax reform--including a consumption tax increase.
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa have retained their posts. Japan-U.S. relations were bruised by Hatoyama's immature handling of diplomatic affairs. To repair this crucial bilateral relationship, there must be progress in resolving the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture.
The new Cabinet should spare no effort in reaching out to local governments and residents in Okinawa Prefecture that will be affected by the base relocation, and convince them that the quickest way to ease their burden of hosting U.S. military facilities would be to accept the Japan-U.S. agreement to build replacement facilities in the Henoko area in Nago.
In the previous administration, the Social Democratic Party was one of the DPJ's junior coalition partners. However, the SDP was an albatross around the government's neck when it came to diplomatic and security policies. Now that the SDP has left the coalition, the new Cabinet should deepen the Japan-U.S. alliance and expand the Self-Defense Forces' overseas activities. There is scope for the government to cooperate with the LDP on these issues.
Yoshihiko Noda was promoted to finance minister from senior vice finance minister, and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Masayuki Naoshima remained in his post. Markets around the world are becoming increasingly critical of Japan's fiscal condition, and ominous signs are emerging that the country's international competitiveness might be slipping. Noda and Naoshima will need to draw up clear blueprints for overcoming the crisis.
Many eyebrows have been raised over Satoshi Arai's diverse portfolio--he has been appointed state minister in charge of national policy, economic and fiscal policy, consumer affairs and food safety. We wonder if the Kan Cabinet is making light of the task of drawing up national policies, which is supposedly an issue on which the DPJ placed great importance.
Lawmaker Renho, who caught the public's eye as she dressed down bureaucrats during budget screening designed to weed out wasteful government spending, was named state minister in charge of government revitalization. Her appointment smacks of a ploy to pull in votes in the upper house election. But Renho will be unable to promote reform of independent administrative institutions and public-interest corporations if she handles the problem with the same political theatrics she displayed in the budget screening.
Don't let Ozawa off hook
People's New Party leader Shizuka Kamei kept his post as state minister in charge of financial services and postal reform.
The coalition parties hold a narrow majority in the upper house. Given this, Kan will be unable to ignore the opinions of the PNP on the postal reform bill currently under Diet deliberations.
Nevertheless, the Cabinet should avoid a repeat of a situation in which a small party holds disproportionate sway over the government and the DPJ--as the SDP did previously.
Many observers are closely watching how the new administration will clean up the issue of politics and money that tainted the previous government. Kan and Edano said Ozawa's resignation as party secretary general has fixed this problem to some degree. However, the public does not share this opinion.
At the very least, Ozawa should come forward and speak at the lower house's Deliberative Council on Political Ethics to fulfill his responsibility of explaining the suspicions swirling around him.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 9, 2010)