Abe must work wholeheartedly to lead nation out of crisis
Defeating deflation, continuing with post-disaster reconstruction, overhauling nuclear power policy, and rebuilding foreign policy--Japan is faced with many challenges.
However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's determination to resolve these issues was reflected in his choice of Cabinet ministers.
The second Abe Cabinet was formed Wednesday, making Abe the second politician since the end of World War II to make a comeback as prime minister, following Shigeru Yoshida (1878-1967).
"I would like to gain the trust of the public by producing results as soon as possible," Abe said at a press conference after being elected prime minister.
Abe's first Cabinet broke up five years ago after only a short period in office. Has he learned from the bitter experience? The spotlight is now on whether he can put his policies into practice.
Abe has said his Cabinet's reason for being is to "break through the national crisis." We hope the new prime minister can lead the nation out of the dead end it has found itself in.
Use bureaucrats to full potential
Political heavyweights including former Prime Minister Taro Aso, former Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki and former New Komeito Chief Representative Akihiro Ota gained spots in the Cabinet alongside midranking and junior lawmakers close to Abe, such as Takumi Nemoto, the new state minister for disaster reconstruction.
Abe built his Cabinet around a close confidant in choosing former LDP Acting Secretary General Yoshihide Suga as chief cabinet secretary. Hiroshige Seko, another Abe ally and former chairman of the LDP Policy Board in the House of Councillors, was appointed deputy chief secretary. Isao Iijima, who served as parliamentary secretary under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, was made a special adviser to the Cabinet.
His appointments in the Cabinet Secretariat show Abe's desire to strengthen the collective power of his administration based on the leadership of the Cabinet Office, as well as to enhance the office's crisis-management capabilities.
The administrations led by the Democratic Party of Japan sailed under the slogan "politics led by politicians," but they failed to understand the true meaning of the phrase. The Abe administration must make a clear distinction between it and the DPJ administrations by making use of the bureaucracy.
We ask Abe to exploit the full potential of the Kasumigaseki bureaucrats.
The Abe Cabinet's top priority will be reviving the economy. Cabinet ministers who are expected to play a central role in this include Aso, who is deputy prime minister, finance minister and state minister for financial services; Akira Amari, state minister for economic revitalization; and Toshimitsu Motegi, the economy, trade and industry minister.
All three are known as expert policymakers and have chaired the party's Policy Research Council. We hope they will swiftly draw up effective measures to jump-start the economy.
Govt bodies to revive economy
The new administration needs to steadily raise the consumption tax rate to obtain enough revenue to fund social security programs. However, the administration must first compile a supplementary budget large enough to buoy the economy, which is showing signs of further decline.
Abe has said he will revive the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, a government panel that was idled under the DPJ, and establish a new body tentatively named Japan's economic revitalization headquarters. The prime minister must steer these two organs effectively so they can play a leading role in economic policy.
The administration of former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda pledged to achieve "zero nuclear power" in the 2030s, a policy that endangers the stability of the power supply and will accelerate the hollowing-out of the domestic industrial sector. We urge the Abe administration to annul this policy and come up with practical nuclear and energy policies.
With our society graying, birthrate low and population decreasing, shrinkage of domestic demand is unavoidable for the medium term. Japan must join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework to spur economic growth.
We have high hopes that Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi will play a pivotal role in enhancing the international competitiveness of the agriculture industry, a necessary part of preparing to further open the domestic market.
It is also essential for the Abe administration to improve the nation's aging infrastructure and implement disaster-management measures. Keiji Furuya, state minister for disaster management, will be in charge of "strengthening national land"--one of the key policies of the new Cabinet.
Needless to say, it should not be forgotten that the nation's finances have been seriously dependent on borrowing. The Abe Cabinet has to come up with effective methods of public investment so that we will not pass on any further heavy burdens to future generations.
To make the nation's social security system sustainable, it is inevitable to cut benefit payments. Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura will be tested on handling the issue as a social security expert.
The post of foreign minister has been assumed by Fumio Kishida, a former state minister for Okinawa Prefecture affairs. Progress will not be made on the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in the prefecture unless Kishida can restore trust with the prefecture, a condition that was seriously damaged by the administration of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama from the DPJ.
It is reasonable for Abe to appoint Kishida as foreign minister, as he is knowledgeable on situations facing Okinawa Prefecture and is said to have a relationship of trust with Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima.
Named as defense minister was Itsunori Onodera, former parliamentary senior vice minister for foreign affairs.
Over the dispute on the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, China has sent not only its vessels to intrude into Japanese waters, but also an airplane to violate the nation's airspace. Dealing with China--which has been seeking to expand its economic and military might--is the Abe Cabinet's top priority in the diplomatic and security field.
The new prime minister has to establish a flexible, shrewd strategy by working closely with Kishida and Onodera.
LDP seeks to renew itself
Meanwhile, the lineup of the LDP's new party leadership is attracting attention as two of its three key executives posts have been given to women: Sanae Takaichi has been named chairwoman of the Policy Research Council, while Seiko Noda has been given the post of chairwoman of the General Council.
The appointments aim to make the two women part of the face of the party along with Shigeru Ishiba--who is being retained as secretary general and is especially popular in less urban areas--for the upcoming upper house election next summer. Abe said the changes in the LDP can be signaled by the two female members assuming the key posts.
However, such an image alone cannot help restore public confidence in the LDP. The party is urged to make further efforts and assume a humble attitude to move the nation's politics forward. Otherwise, the LDP could follow the path Abe warned of: "We'll become a cheap, old LDP as soon as we begin to rely only on party traditions."
The Diet remains divided until the next upper house election. The LDP, Komeito and the DPJ should maintain their framework of cooperation regarding the integrated reform of the social security and tax systems.
We are fed up with political indecisiveness. We hope Abe will manage his government in a different way than previous administrations.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 27, 2012)