Noda Cabinet must show recipe for repairing nation
Although it lacks sparkle, the lineup of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Cabinet gives the impression he is determined to get the wheels of the nation's politics turning again.
The next step is to strategically implement various policies effectively.
The new Cabinet was launched Friday.
The lineup is characterized by the inclusion of several House of Councillors members and former heads of the Democratic Party of Japan's Diet Affairs Committee.
Apparently Noda attached importance to cooperation with opposition parties to overcome the so-called divided Diet.
Under Naoto Kan, the DPJ could not function as a ruling party due to internal conflict triggered by disagreements over policies, and strained ties with opposition parties.
Reflecting on the shortcomings of the Kan administration, the new Cabinet contains a balance of members from intraparty groups.
Together with the lineup of DPJ executives, the party unity Noda was desperate to realize has been achieved--for the time being.
The Noda administration has many urgent issues in its in-tray. They include restoration from the March 11 disaster, bringing the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant under control, participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade agreement, fiscal rehabilitation, reform of the social security system with a hike in the consumption tax rate as the main pillar, and rebuilding the nation's diplomacy.
The Noda Cabinet does not have a minute to lose.
It should come up with concrete proposals to address these matters as soon as possible.
Review ties with bureaucrats
Intraparty debate over important policies Noda raised, such as tax increases to fund reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake, was basically settled when the curtain came down on last week's DPJ presidential election.
It is important that each minister accept the results of the election, and that they work as a team to resolve the problems.
The ministers must be careful not to make irresponsible remarks off the cuff or generate infighting within the Cabinet, as often happened under past administrations.
At the same time, the prime minister should not easily back down for the sake of reconciliation.
Former DPJ Deputy Secretary General Osamu Fujimura, one of Noda's closest aides, has been appointed chief cabinet secretary, the linchpin of the Cabinet.
As a right-hand man of Noda, Fujimura must restore the functions of the Prime Minister's Office, which crumbled under the administrations of Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan.
The DPJ has removed bureaucrats from the government's decision-making process under the misguided "lawmaker-led politics" principle, which caused bureaucrats to turn against the administration and attempt to hinder its operations.
After the devastating earthquake, the administration started to more effectively use the bureaucracy by, for instance, having administrative vice ministers of the Cabinet Office and ministries participate in a liaison council set up under the special headquarters for measures to assist disaster victims.
However, this does not go far enough.
To realize proper politician-led politics, we suggest the new administration resurrect a conference of vice ministers.
From the viewpoint of beefing up functions of the Prime Minister's Office, it is noteworthy that Noda met the leaders of three major business organizations, including Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura, before selecting his ministers and asked them to support a planned council that will work on economic and fiscal issues, among others.
The planned council, which will be set up at the office, is intended to repair government relations with the business world that became strained under the Kan administration.
The council also will integrate and realign many of the economy-related advisory bodies that have been haphazardly set up.
Establishing this council will allow the government to tap the wisdom and knowledge of bureaucrats and a wide range of experts from the private sector.
Noda reappointed some members of the Kan Cabinet, including Tatsuo Hirano as reconstruction minister and Goshi Hosono as minister in charge of stabilizing the Fukushima nuclear crisis. This makes sense because continuity is essential for speedily reconstructing disaster-hit areas.
Get N-plants operating again
Where does the government stand on nuclear power generation? Simply calling for reducing reliance on nuclear power without providing a convincing energy policy vision--the mistake made by the Kan administration--could plunge the economy and people's lives into disarray.
Noda said he wants nuclear reactors currently suspended for regular inspections "reactivated after firmly ensuring they are safe and provided we have the understanding of residents living nearby."
Hosono should endeavor in tandem with Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yoshio Hachiro to get the nuclear plants operating again.
The post of finance minister has been assumed by Jun Azumi, a former DPJ Diet Affairs Committee chairman.
His ability to handle this job is unknown.
The domestic economic environment is extremely severe--not least because of the historically strong yen--and the fiscal crisis is worsening.
Azumi must work out measures to fix these problems without causing a national credit crisis.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the DPJ-led governments has been diplomatic and national security policy.
Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa have been given posts in these fields for the first time. Their caliber will be put to the test.
It was appropriate that Noda reconfirmed in talks with U.S. President Barack Obama over the telephone that the alliance with the United States is the "cornerstone of Japan's diplomacy."
The government must think hard about how to deepen the security alliance while reducing the burdens of Okinawa Prefecture residents in line with the bilateral accord on realigning U.S. forces in Japan.
It should never be forgotten that Okinawa Prefecture and Washington lost faith in Hatoyama because of his bungled handling of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station.
His successor Kan also hurt national interests due to the inept response to a Chinese fishing boat's collision with two Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels off the Senkaku Islands and the dispute with Russia over the northern territories off Hokkaido.
Push ahead with TPP talks
We cannot help but feel uneasy about Michihiko Kano's reappointment as agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister, since he has been cool toward the nation's participation in the TPP trade framework.
We want Kano, who has a reputation for being well-versed in agricultural affairs, to play a key role in keeping opponents to the TPP talks in check.
Noda is the third prime minister since the DPJ swept to power in 2009.
When the DPJ was an opposition party, it regularly fired broadsides at Liberal Democratic Party-led governments as prime ministers came and went in quick succession.
The DPJ argued that any administration that had not obtained a mandate of the people through a general election lacked legitimacy.
If that is the case, it would be quite logical for the DPJ to seek voter judgment by holding a general election.
As long as the DPJ argues it must stay in power without holding an election because it places top priority on recovery from the March 11 disaster and that there must not be a political vacuum, it is imperative that the Noda Cabinet produce good results by successfully tackling the challenges confronting the nation.
We strongly hope Noda will produce tangible results even as he fights with his back to the wall.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 3, 2011)