Aso must outline plan for 'radiant, strong' state
Prime Minister Taro Aso's new Cabinet was inaugurated Wednesday night. But it sets out under unusual circumstances, with the dissolution of the House of Representatives and a subsequent general election just around the corner.
The question now is what Aso--the 59th man to serve as prime minister--should do to maintain the nation's vigor.
To ensure he can do so, he must present a blueprint mapping out the nation's politics and diplomacy as quickly as possible.
（麻生首相はこれから先の国内政策と外交政策につき明確な青写真を国民に示さなければならない by srachai）
Announcing the lineup of his Cabinet himself at a press conference, Aso stressed that he is determined to make Japan a "radiant and strong country." He apparently believed it was important to deliver such a message directly to the public rather than leaving it to the chief cabinet secretary.
3 principles for governance
On appointing his Cabinet ministers, Aso instructed them "to promote policies for the benefit of the people," "to make the best use of bureaucrats" and "to devote efforts to the national interest rather than that of government ministries." These are apparently being dubbed "Aso's three principles" and he said he will make them the cornerstone of his policies.
Aso named former Education, Science and Technology Minister Takeo Kawamura as chief cabinet secretary, a pivotal role in the Cabinet. As with the appointment of Hiroyuki Hosoda as Liberal Democratic Party secretary general, picking Kawamura indicates that Aso took into account his practical skills, which are highly thought of within the party.
Aso retained Kaoru Yosano, who was a contender in Monday's LDP presidential election, as state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy and named former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba as agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister. These appointments suggest Aso also hopes to build a united party by ensuring ministers are matched with positions suited to their policymaking abilities.
In addition, Aso gave Cabinet posts to many of those who contributed to his victory in the party presidential race. Shoichi Nakagawa, finance minister and state minister in charge of financial services; Kunio Hatoyama, internal affairs and communications minister; and Akira Amari, state minister in charge of administrative reform, all supported Aso and contributed to his winning the presidential election.
Meanwhile, the prime minister named Yuko Obuchi, 34, who is in her third term in the lower house, as state minister in charge of the declining birthrate. She becomes the youngest ever postwar cabinet member.
Management in crisis
Since former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's abrupt resignation announcement on Sept. 1, there have been serious problems to contend with at home and abroad. The new Cabinet must check the government's crisis management system and try to perfect the management of affairs of state.
The financial crisis that originated in the United States is developing into a cross-border realignment of the financial industry that involves Japanese financial institutions. Meanwhile, the Japanese economy itself is slowing.
Given these difficult circumstances, agile management that unifies fiscal and financial considerations is going to be indispensable in guiding the country's economic policies.
Aso also has asked Finance Minister Nakagawa to serve as state minister in charge of financial services. He says, quite reasonably, that the dual appointment ensures Japan has a state minister responsible for financial services in attendance at meetings of the Group of Seven finance ministers and central bank governors.
Meanwhile, police on Wednesday searched the headquarters of Osaka-based rice processing and sales firm Mikasa Foods on suspicion of selling tainted rice meant for industrial use as edible rice. The latest incident revealed government administrative processes are not functioning properly.
Incoming agriculture minister Ishiba should exercise leadership in cooperation with Seiko Noda, who retained her post as state minister in charge of consumer affairs, to ensure the safety of the nation's food and to regain the public's trust in the ministry.
Recent reports of the deteriorating health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il have caused confusion over the future direction of this autocratic state's decision-making.
Against this backdrop, North Korea recently began work restoring its Yongbyon nuclear facility that it had previously agreed to disable.
Meanwhile, there is currently no prospect of Pyongyang resuming its reinvestigation into Japanese abducted by North Korean agents.
Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone and Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada need to reaffirm coordination with the United States and other countries concerned and give full attention to North Korea's actions.
Meanwhile, an agreement reached between the LDP and its coalition partner New Komeito on Tuesday incorporates economic stimulus measures, including fixed-amount income and residential tax cuts that were demanded by New Komeito. The two parties also agreed to review an unpopular health care insurance program for people aged 75 or older.
However, the agreement does not call for the financial burden the nation faces to be shouldered by the public, including through a consumption tax rate hike. And as for securing financial resources to fund ballooning social security costs, it simply refers to administrative reforms, including abolishing and consolidating local offices of the central government and ensuring budgetary allocations are not squandered.
Tackling economic challenges
Having said, "The Japanese economy needs three years to recover," Aso has accepted the government's fiscal stimulus measures to turn around the flagging economy. He also has suggested he will push back the target of achieving a surplus in the primary balance, originally eyed for fiscal 2011, saying, "Conditions have changed."
A review of the health care insurance program for people aged 75 or older was unexpectedly floated during the closing stages of the LDP presidential election. But this raises the question of how the LDP and New Komeito will remain consistent with their previous insistence that the scheme is necessary. Aso and Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe should explain this properly to ensure there is no confusion among the public.
At his first press conference on assuming the premiership Wednesday night, Aso clarified that the government would raise its share of the burden for the basic pension to half from the current one-third from fiscal 2009. However, he did not present details on the financial resources available for doing so.
The new Cabinet should urgently discuss concrete measures for securing such resources.
If Aso's administration is to achieve the goals it has laid out, the LDP clearly must prevail in its upcoming electoral battle with the Democratic Party of Japan, headed by Ichiro Ozawa.
Aso is responsible for presenting clearly defined principles for the country's rejuvenation and outlining concrete policies for the public in his policy speech scheduled to be delivered at the Diet on Monday.
We hope Aso will engage in lively and constructive debates with Ozawa and other opposition parties leaders during their interpellation.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 25, 2008)