Noda must play commanding role on social security, tax reform
The new Cabinet lineup is obviously aimed at placing top priority on passing bills on integrated reform of the social security and tax systems, the main pillar of which is to raise the consumption tax rate.
With the current Diet session approaching its end on June 21, the rereshuffled Noda Cabinet was launched Monday. In creating an environment to move integrated reform forward, the reshuffle can be termed "defense-oriented" to ensure smooth Diet deliberations.
To pass the bills through the Diet, Democratic Party of Japan executives must make strenuous efforts to realize negotiations with the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito to revise the bills and vote on them in the House of Representatives.
The European credit crisis has flared up again with fiscally suffering Greece at the core. For Japan, this is not a fire on the other side of the river. Fiscal rehabilitation and social security reform are problems the government must not continue to leave untouched. The ruling and opposition parties should not confront each other merely to serve their own interests.
Start talks on bills' revisions
The primary object of the reshuffle was to "dismiss" Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka and Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Takeshi Maeda, who were both censured in the House of Councillors. This was to help start negotiations with the opposition parties on revising the bills.
Noda chose Prof. Satoshi Morimoto of Takushoku University as the new defense minister. In speaking of his expectations of Morimoto, Noda said, "He is one of the top experts in the security field in the country."
His two immediate predecessors--Yasuo Ichikawa and Tanaka--have been criticized by opposition parties as "amateurs," calling into question Noda's personnel management ability.
For that reason, Noda apparently selected a "professional," who has considerable insight and accountability. Morimoto, a former Air Self-Defense Force member, has also served as a Foreign Ministry bureaucrat. In the administration of former Prime Minister Taro Aso, he was appointed to the post of special adviser to the defense minister.
Nonpolitician in defense post
This is the first time a nonpolitician has been given the defense portfolio since the Defense Agency, the ministry's predecessor, debuted in 1954. The LDP and other opposition parties criticized the appointment, saying only politicians chosen through elections are able to take responsibility for defense issues. Some observers said the appointment was proof the DPJ lacks suitable human resources.
There are many problems awaiting the new defense minister, such as relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture, the transfer of marines in the prefecture to bases overseas, China's expanding naval and other maritime activities and North Korea's missile and nuclear development programs. As a defense expert, Morimoto must demonstrate his ability to handle all these tasks.
Among ministers who were replaced were Maeda, who was criticized over a possible violation of the Public Offices Election Law; Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano, who reportedly had connections with a Chinese diplomat questionably involved in a program to promote agricultural exports to China; and Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa, who was observed viewing an Internet horse racing site on his cell phone in a Diet committee room.
Former senior vice farm minister Akira Gunji, who assumed the post of agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister, is a senior member of a DPJ group that does not favor Japan's participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks. We hope Gunji will not try to apply the brakes if the prime minister decides on official participation in the TPP talks.
Now that the two censured Cabinet ministers have been replaced, the LDP should abandon its tactics of rejecting Diet deliberations and move Diet business along in the upper house where sessions have been stalled.
Building trust with LDP
In the reshuffle, Noda left the DPJ leadership lineup intact. The main point is whether Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi and other party executives will be prepared to join Noda in building cooperative relations with the LDP.
Koshiishi, the No. 2 man in the ruling party, seems to be determined to put off the vote on the bills to raise the consumption tax because of fears that former party President Ichiro Ozawa and other opponents of the tax hike will vote against the bills if a vote is taken at this juncture.
If this is the case, it will be impossible to win the trust of the LDP. The DPJ leadership must initiate negotiations with the LDP on revising the consumption tax bills as early as possible by presenting a deadline of June 15 for a vote on the bills in the House of Representatives. Ozawa and members of his group are firmly resolved to oppose the bills. Preparations for the vote should be made on the assumption that it will be difficult to reverse their stance.
At a news conference Monday, Noda said he had directed the party executives to keep him informed of the situation on a daily basis and would make a final decision whenever he thought necessary.
This illustrates his firm determination to spearhead talks with the LDP.
One compelling option Noda should consider is one-on-one talks with LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki to break the stalemate.
Bold concessions vital
To ensure results from negotiations on the revision of the tax hike bills, the DPJ should shelve its signature policies put forth in its campaign pledge for the 2009 general election, including establishment of a new pension system with a minimum pension benefit and its plan to abolish the special medical service system for people aged 75 or older.
We make this assertion not only because the LDP strongly objects to policies mentioned in the manifesto but also because they are extremely problematic. It would be realistic for the DPJ to agree to an LDP proposal calling for the establishment of a national conference on social security system reform that allows experts to participate in the discussions.
Along with negotiations on revision of the bills to promote integrated social security and tax system reforms, reform of the electoral system for the lower house is another problem that must be tackled urgently.
A plan to cut one single-seat constituency in each of five prefectures without increasing seats in other prefectures' single-seat constituencies--which is aimed at correcting the disparity of vote value in the lower house election--must be implemented before carrying out drastic reforms of the electoral system. It is essential to rectify the current situation, which has been judged unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The ruling and opposition parties must take to heart that their judgments and actions will determine the future course of Japan. Extension of the Diet session beyond the June 21 deadline will be unavoidable. Whether it can be extended or not will greatly affect the prime minister's governance.
Drastic concessions will be needed to move the politics ahead.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 5, 2012)