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Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011
Reshuffle under opposition pressure
The lineup of Prime Minister Naoto Kan's new Cabinet, which emerged Friday after a minor reshuffle, underscores his hope for a smooth start to the Diet's ordinary session later this month and for progress in bringing about Japan's financial reconstruction and its participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional free trade agreement being pushed by the United States, Australia and several other countries. But his administration will face great difficulty unless he proves his trustworthiness in each step he takes.
In the reshuffle, Mr. Kan removed Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku and infrastructure and transport minister Sumio Mabuchi, since opposition parties controlling the Upper House had passed censure resolutions against them mainly over their handling of the September collision incident near the Senkaku Islands of Okinawa Prefecture involving a Chinese trawler and two Japan Coast Guard patrol ships. In sum, Mr. Kan succumbed to a threat from the opposition parties to boycott Diet deliberations as long as the two remain in the Cabinet.
Mr. Sengoku, who played a vital role in running the Kan administration, has been shifted to the post of Democratic Party of Japan acting chief. Mr. Kan plans to have him work with his new Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano to deal with the opposition forces.
This job will not be easy because Mr. Edano, who had served as DPJ acting secretary general until the Cabinet reshuffle, and DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada had done little to smooth relations with and get cooperation from the opposition forces. Mr. Sengoku's assumption of the new party post will also give rise to intraparty rivalry between him and Mr. Okada, complicating the party's chain of command.
In the Cabinet, Mr. Edano has to serve as the Cabinet's spokesman and coordinate Cabinet members and various ministries. But Mr. Edano, 46, has yet to prove his coordination ability. There seems to be a question mark about him as a politician. He once said that the DPJ had the imprudence to declare that it would pursue politics in which elected lawmakers, not bureaucrats, become principal players. He fails to understand the significance of the DPJ's coming to power in September 2009 by pulling down the Liberal Democratic Party. His remark is tantamount to confession of his lack of tenacity to tackle a difficult task the DPJ's declaration entails.
While Japan and China were embroiled in the Senkaku boat collision issue, he nonchalantly denounced China as a "bad neighbor" and a "country lacking rule of law," showing his lack of basic knowledge that diplomacy is a delicate thing and must be handled with utmost care.
Mr. Kan, who expressed his determination in his New Year speech to pursue reform of the tax system, which will include a consumption tax raise, and of the social welfare system, tapped Mr. Kaoru Yosano, a former LDP member who just defected from the minor party Tachiagare Nippon, as minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy. Mr. Kan apparently hopes that Mr. Yosano — a longtime advocate of financial reconstruction and tax increases, well-versed in policy matters and having connections with bureaucrats — will help the Kan administration work out a concrete plan for tax increases and social welfare reform.
But the power and function of Mr. Yosano's Cabinet post are not clearly defined. Mr. Kan will face criticism that his picking of Mr. Yosano is just for the sake of expediency since Mr. Yosano had vehemently attacked the DPJ policies, especially the child allowance. Members of both the ruling and opposition parties will also see political opportunism in Mr. Yosano. He had served as the LDP's policy chief and the Abe Cabinet's Chief Cabinet Secretary, fought Mr. Taro Aso in vain for the LDP presidency, served as the Aso Cabinet's economics and finance minister and, in April 2010, formed Tachiagare Nippon with several other former LDP members.
Mr. Kan replaced trade and industry minister Akihiro Ohata, who is not enthusiastic about the TPP, with Mr. Banri Kaieda, who was minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy and is enthusiastic about the TPP. Mr. Ohata was shifted to the post of infrastructure and transport minister. The problem with Mr. Kan regarding the TPP is that he has so far failed to painstakingly explain to people why Japan has the need to join the TPP.
The same can be said with his call for raising the consumption tax. He suddenly took up the issue during the campaign for the July Upper House election and then flip-flopped. These episodes show that he lacks solid philosophy of his own and has no deep thought about important policy matters. His behavior has deepened people's mistrust of politics.
At the very least, Mr. Kan should prove his sincerity by showing that he is implementing in earnest the DPJ's slogan "People's lives come first" even if it is done with strict prioritization under today's difficult financial conditions.