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Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012
DPJ test ends as Noda's team quietly bows out
By MASAMI ITO
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his Cabinet resigned en masse Wednesday morning, quietly closing the door on the Democratic Party of Japan's first attempt to lead the nation and making way for the old Liberal Democratic Party's return to power.
During a Cabinet meeting in the morning, Noda thanked his ministers for their work and instead of holding a news conference, issued a statement in which he stressed that his team devoted its 39 months in office to dealing with the devastating March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami, the Fukushima nuclear disaster and economic revitalization.
Torn by internal strife and a divided Diet with an Upper House in the hands of the opposition, many key issues were left pending, some perhaps to be sorted out by hawkish LDP Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is embarking on his second stint leading the government.
"I truly hope that the new government will steer Japan in an unerring direction of protecting the nation and the people's lives when dealing with the many domestic and international issues Japan faces," Noda said in his statement.
The DPJ came to power in 2009 with overwhelming public support amid strong discontent with the LDP's almost uninterrupted half-century of rule, which was rife with money scandals and politics centered on vested interests. But the DPJ's crushing loss in the Dec. 16 general election limited its historic run to 1,198 days.
Despite the DPJ's fall from grace, pundits agree that Japan needs to maintain a political system in which a change in government is possible. But some analysts, including Kazuhisa Kawakami, a political science professor at Meiji Gakuin University, stressed that the single-seat constituency system, first introduced in 1996, needs to be changed.
"A change in government is necessary to maintain a sense of urgency, but this swing of the democratic pendulum is a major problem . . . and the system needs to be changed," Kawakami said.
After the humiliating defeat in the poll, the DPJ quickly elected Banri Kaieda as its new leader Tuesday to rebuild the shattered party and somehow see victory in next summer's Upper House poll.
Seiji Maehara, who was national strategy minister in the Noda Cabinet, expressed a deep sense of crisis over the party's fate.
"The role we played in Japan's two-party system is now an illusion, and we are in danger of disappearing," he said. "We will need a tremendous effort to make our presence known again and regain the public's trust."
Noda was the third DPJ prime minister, preceded by Naoto Kan and Yukio Hatoyama. During the three years, the DPJ stumbled while desperately trying to break the rigid bureaucratic system built by the LDP in its bid to execute political leadership. In the end, it failed to achieve most of the goals it promised in 2009.
Hatoyama was the first to trigger harsh public outrage for promising and then later failing to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma out of Okinawa — and in less than nine months, he was forced to step down.
Then came Kan, who was the nation's leader during and after the March 11 triple disaster. He too faced criticism not only from the opposition camp but also from members of the DPJ over the government's handling of the nuclear crisis in Fukushima.
And finally Noda entered the picture in September last year and ultimately ended up leading his party to self-destruction.
Upholding Kan's goal of hiking the sales tax and joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, Noda laid these controversial policies out to his fellow DPJ lawmakers, completely splitting the party in half. About 90 party members broke from the DPJ during Noda's rule, and his decision to hold the Lower House election Dec. 16 turned out to be suicidal for the DPJ, which lost 173 Lower House seats.
Naoto Nonaka, a political science professor at Gakushuin University, believes the DPJ would still be able to stage a comeback.
"The DPJ does have a chance at recovery . . . if it can stay together as a party. One more major breakup and it will be the end for the DPJ," Nonaka said. "It depends on how the LDP performs in the next few years, but I think there is a possibility that another change in government could occur after the next Lower House election."
Kaieda economy expert
Banri Kaieda, the Democratic Party of Japan's new leader and a founding member of one of its predecessors in 1996, is considered an economic expert.
As one who knows the origins of the party that governed the nation over the past three years, the 63-year-old Kaieda faces the immediate task of rebuilding the party after its crushing loss to the Liberal Democratic Party in the Dec. 16 Lower House election.
The Lower House lawmaker handled the Fukushima nuclear crisis that began in March 2011 in his capacity as economy, trade and industry minister.
In an emotional moment, Kaieda sobbed during questioning in the Diet in July 2011 when opposition lawmakers demanded that he promptly resign, as he had indicated, to take responsibility for causing confusion among local governments over the issue of restarting reactors amid the nuclear crisis.
He later said he wept because he had faced an extraordinary situation for a prolonged period, adding, "I shouldn't cry."
Critics say Kaieda is too fragile, as politicians must be stubborn and convey a hard public image when pursuing their policy goals.
The six-term lawmaker, who won his first Diet seat in a Tokyo constituency in the 1993 House of Representatives election on the ticket of the now-defunct Japan New Party, formed the DPJ's precursor along with former Prime Ministers Naoto Kan and Yukio Hatoyama, who both also headed the DPJ. Kaieda's first Cabinet post was as minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy in September 2010.
A native of Tokyo who graduated from Keio University, Kaieda worked as a secretary for Chimpei Nozue, a former House of Councilors lawmaker. His hobbies include Chinese poetry and watching movies.
Even though the DPJ has been pushed to the sidelines by the Dec. 16 general election, Kaieda must work to rebuild his party and present viable policy alternatives to the new LDP-led government.