Kan Cabinet must pull itself together
Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida resigned Monday to take responsibility over his recent verbal gaffe, remarks that many interpreted as disrespectful of Diet deliberations. His resignation is widely seen as a de facto dismissal by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has placed priority on trouble-free deliberations in the Diet to pass a fiscal 2010 supplementary budget. We think Kan's decision was reasonable.
Opposition parties were moving to submit a censure motion against the justice minister at the House of Councillors on Monday. Even if the motion had passed, it would not have been legally binding, but there was concern that passage of the motion might have significantly impeded Diet deliberations on the supplementary budget.
With the road to recovery for the Japanese economy still uncertain, the most urgent issue is swift approval and implementation of the supplementary budget. The prime minister must take advantage of Yanagida's dismissal to quickly re-create a situation in which his administration can implement policies.
Yanagida was quoted as saying at a Nov. 14 gathering of supporters in his constituency that he could get through Diet deliberations with only two phrases. One, he said, was: "I can't comment on a specific issue."
Yanagida said at a Monday press conference held to announce his resignation that he had spoken in jest, but we still believe his gaffe casts doubt on his merit as a Cabinet minister.
Appoint qualified ministers
The prime minister will be held responsible for appointing Yanagida as justice minister.
During his 20 years as a lawmaker, Yanagida had never worked on judicial affairs. When he was appointed justice minister with the endorsement of the Democratic Party of Japan caucus in the upper house, Yanagida reportedly said, "Why me?"
Cabinet appointments were frequently based on seniority and factional power politics under Liberal Democratic Party-led governments as well. However, if the DPJ is going to tout "leadership by politicians" as a slogan, it should have given more consideration to Yanagida's abilities and aptitude.
Kan's administration apparently lacks a sense of crisis and does not fully understand it is facing a so-called divided Diet, where the opposition controls the upper house, at a time of diminishing public support.
The administration emphasizes careful deliberations in the Diet but it is not working actively to bring them about, just pushing the responsibility for stalled Diet deliberations onto opposition parties.
With this attitude, the Kan administration will never break free of its current predicament.
The prime minister told the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Nov. 8 that he wanted to keep managing the government "no matter what." Kan should prioritize policy implementation, but this remark sounds like staying in power itself has become his goal.
In foreign affairs, the prime minister also seems fixated on holding summit talks with Chinese and Russian leaders without paying attention to their content. That will not help him protect Japan's national interest.
Kan must take charge
The prime minister should exercise his leadership, realizing that the cowering of his administration, which tries to put off decisions on everything, has lowered public support for it.
During the current extraordinary Diet session, Kan must arrange to summon former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa to the Diet and disclose the video of a Chinese fishing boat ramming two Japan Coast Guard patrol boats off Senkaku Islands. It is also important for each member of his Cabinet to be more cautious and take responsibility for his or her remarks.
Yanagida's successor needs to be appointed as soon as possible. Alleged tampering of evidence by a prosecutor of the special investigation unit at the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office, and a subsequent cover-up scandal by his superiors, have made reform of the nation's prosecution system a pressing issue.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku is currently doubling as justice minister, but this will not allow the government to tackle policy issues appropriately.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 23, 2010)