Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Will the DPJ weather the global rebalancing?

David Brooks's latest column in the New York Times calls for a restoration of "economic values" in the United States, with the aim of making "the U.S. again a producer economy, not a consumer economy." Brooks sees a decline in traditional values of restraint behind the rise of consumer spending to ever greater portions of GDP and the growing indebtedness of consumers. Whether or not the emergence of the US as a consumer economy is a function of declining values, greater restraint by US consumers is the flip side of Japanese consumers spending more of hoarded savings. After all, the growth of the US consumer economy was accompanied by global imbalances, massive current account surpluses by countries like Japan.

The question now is how to execute the transition to a more balanced relationship among the world's economies, including and especially in the relationship between the US and Japan. How can the US become relatively more predisposed to production and Japan relatively more predisposed to consumption (especially of imports from the US and elsewhere)? The FT's Wolfgang Münchau praises the G20 for at least recognizing the problem of imbalances. For his part Münchau rejects the notion that adjustment can happen automatically simply by US households changing their behavior — or rather, that it can happen, but the transition will be painful everywhere, as Japanese exporters, deprived of American consumption, have discovered over the past year. Instead he argues that each country will have to adjust in its own way:
The answer is that policy will have to be tailor-made to suit the specific circumstances of each country. China will probably not be able to reduce its excessive current account surplus without a revaluation of the renminbi. In Germany, the best overall macro-policy instrument would be a big tax cut to boost domestic demand. In the UK, restoration of balance will have to include heavy cuts in public spending, while Spain will also have to raise taxes, even in addition to last week's announcement of a rise in value-added tax.
And what of Japan?

The DPJ fully acknowledged during the campaign that the challenge facing the government is managing the transition from the postwar producer economy — divided between efficient exporters and inefficient domestic producers and service providers — to a more consumer-centered economy.

But less clear is how the Hatoyama government plans to contribute to the global rebalancing. After all, the government has few policy tools at its disposal. Interest rates cannot go any lower. The government's debt burden limits its ability to use public funds to make up for weak private consumption. The yen's exchange rate is one tool available to the government, but as Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa's conflicting remarks suggest, there are political limits to how far the government can permit an undervalued yen to rise. After stating following a summit with US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh last week that the government would not intervene to keep the yen down, Fujii subsequently softened his position, alluding to intervention should the dollar-yen exchange rate rise too rapidly.

Richard Posner's note upon reading John Maynard Keynes's General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money for the first time — "How I Became a Keynesian" — makes for interesting reading in light of Japan's dilemma. Posner highlights Keynes's focus on consumption as the engine of growth in an economy — and how uncertainty can trigger hoarding. "People do not save just to be able to make a specific future expenditure; they may also be hedging against uncertainty," writes Posner. "And the third claim, related to the second, is that uncertainty — in the sense of a risk that, unlike the risk of losing at roulette, cannot be calculated — is a pervasive feature of the economic environment, particularly with respect to projects intended to satisfy future consumption." This passage strikes me as a particularly succinct description of the problem faced by the Japanese government since the bubble burst: how can the government dispel the ubiquitous sense of uncertainty on the part of Japan's aging consumers? LDP governments engaged in policies that took the outward form of Keynesianism — large-scale construction projects — without appreciating the essence of Keynes, that the goal ultimately was (and is) getting consumers secure enough to spend their own money again. For all the dams and bridges built by the government, the money probably would have been better spent rebuilding the social safety net, which would have in turn made the economy better capable of weathering the transition from the producer-centered dual economy.

In short, the DPJ-led government will attempt what should have been done a decade ago, except that now its fiscal policy options are constrained and the global economy is recovering from a monumental crisis. It will have less recourse to foreign demand to ease the pain of transition than the LDP had up until the global financial crisis. Ultimately the DPJ may be able to do little more than make the transformation marginally less painful, but, as Noah Smith wrote at this blog earlier this year, it will be painful nevertheless. The DPJ may be able to extend its time in office if it is able to deliver adequate social spending in its budgets, but admittedly the prospects for success are grim. The government may simply not have the tools at its disposal to overcome the thriftiness of the Japanese people in an age of uncertainty — but it could pay the political price for "inaction" anyway.

Hatoyama stays above the fray, but his government resists Kamei

In his first two weeks as prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio ought to have learned an important lesson about governing: if you do not set the agenda, someone else will. With the LDP focused on electing a new leader, the policy agenda was clearly set by Kamei Shizuka, trying to make the best of the poor hand dealt to him by the new government. While the government's agenda is packed, the question of a moratorium on loan repayments for small- and medium-sized enterprises is clearly at the top of the list.

Speaking at a press conference following the first meeting of the government's Basic Policy Cabinet Committee — comprised of Kamei, Consumer Affairs minister Fukushima Mizuho, and Deputy Prime Minister Kan Naoto — Kamei insisted that he has Hatoyama's backing when it comes to implementing a moratorium plan. He also insisted that the plan is not simply his own, but rather that it is based on the governing parties' tripartite agreement concluded before the formation of the Hatoyama cabinet. Hatoyama denied that the DPJ, SDPJ, and PNP included this proposal in this agreement, but he did not deny that his government will grapple with the problem of financing for small- and medium-sized enterprises and may mandate a law that, unlike Kamei's plan, would impose a moratorium on repaying principal, instead of interest and principal. Ikeda Nobuo links to a video on Youtube of Hatoyama's voicing his support for a proposal along these lines made by Kawauchi Hiroshi, DPJ representative from Kagaoshima's first district. (Jiji reports on Hatoyama's campaign trail comments too.)

But at the same time Hatoyama said the matter ought to be debated "robustly." In other words, the problem isn't that Hatoyama is on Kamei's side and is pushing hard for a moratorium. The problem is that Hatoyama is not leading at all. The prime minister appears to be working hard to stay above the fray.

Perhaps this is what a government led by a prime minister who is first among equals looks like. Rather than issue marching orders to his ministers, Hatoyama is letting them hammer out a policy themselves. For now the moratorium is in the hands of Ootsuka Kohei, the vice minister of financial services, who is leading a council to investigate countermeasures to overcome reluctance to lend and the withdrawal of credit by financial institutions. Ootsuka, a former Bank of Japan official, wants to make it easier for SMEs to delay payments but does not want to obligate banks to accept a blanket moratorium. An outline of the council's bill will be ready by 9 October. Kamei was not pleased to hear Ootsuka's position — indeed, Kamei insisted that as a vice minister Ootsuka does not have the power to say what he said about a possible moratorium.

Kamei's remarks sound rather defensive, as if he just got completely outmaneuvered. He will undoubtedly continue to talk, but with Ootsuka's team working on a draft bill, Kamei will not get all the attention on the issue. The government appears to be fighting back against Kamei procedurally, as I suspected.

We may yet see why it is crucial that the government has empowered parliamentary vice ministers — and why it is crucial that Ootsuka and Furukawa Motohisa were placed at the center of the government as vice ministers for the cabinet office, where they will be in a position to coordinate the work of other ministries. Having economics and finance experts at the working level will strengthen the government immeasurably.

Kamei will continue to fight, and sooner or later Hatoyama will have to make his position known, but for now the Hatoyama government appears to have taken the first step to reclaiming its agenda from Kamei.

A self-portrait in Asahi

The Asahi Shimbun's Globe section last week published a piece I wrote explaining how I came to be explaining Japanese politics on TV by the age of 26 and offering some ideas for how the DPJ can explain itself to the foreign media.

You can find it online here (in Japanese).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

An important week for the Hatoyama government

Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio has returned to Japan after what appears to have been a successful introduction to the world in New York and Pittsburgh last week. The visit to the US may not have accomplished much in practical terms, but it did have symbolic importance, showing that the Hatoyama government will not shy away from speaking out on pressing international issues but that the government can also be trusted to manage Japan's relationships, most notably the US-Japan relationship.

Now the new government's work will begin in earnest. The DPJ-led government is, after all, less than two weeks old and its policymaking system has yet to make the transition from a set of orders and outlines to a working policymaking process.

At the same time, the government also faces urgent policy questions, especially the matter of what to do about Japan Airlines.

For now, the most immediate task for the prime minister is dealing with Kamei Shizuka, the People's New Party leader and minister for postal reform and financial services. In Hatoyama's absence Kamei continued to press for a law that will provide a debt repayment moratorium for small- and medium-sized enterprises — and continued to assert that despite his nominally minor position within the cabinet, he alone is responsible for ensuring that this proposal becomes law, even after Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi said that Kamei was speaking for himself and not for the cabinet as a whole. Kamei seems to think that each minister has clearly delineated turf over which he or she has undisputed power, a vision of policymaking that directly conflicts with the DPJ's plans for cabinet committees that will hammer out government policies.

Appearing on TV Asahi Sunday, Kamei issued a direct challenge to the prime minister, saying that if Hatoyama is opposed to his proposal, then the prime minister ought to dismiss him.

Hatoyama cannot delay any further in resolving the Kamei problem. I am still convinced that Kamei's antics stem from a desire to enhance his position in the cabinet given the ambiguities of his post, and that Kamei can be managed. The way to manage him is, of course, through the cabinet committees. The prime minister should ignore Kamei's demand that the prime minister dismiss him (he didn't say he would resign, after all), and convene a financial sector cabinet committee with Kamei, Fujii, and METI minister Naoshima Masayuki. The prime minister needs to stress that policy will be made through this system, not through an individual minister using the media as an outlet to announce his personal policy preferences. The same must go for the Basic Policy cabinet committee, comprised of Kamei, Deputy Prime Minister Kan Naoto, and Fukushima Mizuho, SDPJ leader, which is scheduled to meet for the first time Monday afternoon. It is unclear what role this committee will play in the government, but arguably Kan's task should be to marginalize it as a policymaking outfit, limiting its pronouncements to broad principles rather than specific guidelines for other cabinet ministers. Hopefully Kan and the DPJ can rely on Fukushima to isolate Kamei in the committee.

The fact that cabinet committees are only forming now shows that it is too early to panic about the workings of the Hatoyama government. The government still has not set to work in earnest. Indeed, also meeting for the first time Monday will be a committee headed by Kan to review the compilation of next year's budget, the most important task facing the new budget.

The task then for this week is to establish how the government will make its policies. As much of a nuisance as Kamei has been since the government took power, the damage has been limited and he can be bested simply by quickly getting cabinet committees in place to begin work on the government's legislative agenda for the forthcoming extraordinary Diet session — and reiterating that Kamei does not speak for the government.

At the same time, Ozawa Ichiro, fresh from a trip to Britain, where he studied parliamentary administration, will have to pressure Kamei from another direction. The PNP caucuses with the DPJ in the House of Councillors, presumably giving Ozawa power over the PNP's five upper house members. If the DPJ can rely on the PNP's support in the upper house even if the government does not do as Kamei wants, Kamei will have a much harder time defying Hatoyama.

One way or another, we should know more about how the DPJ-led government will work after this week.

Friday, September 25, 2009

On Radio New Zealand

Readers in New Zealand can catch me on Radio New Zealand's "Saturday Morning with Kim Hill" from 8:15am on — you guessed it — Saturday morning in New Zealand. Oddly enough, I will be followed not long thereafter by British author Nick Hornby.

Middle-power diplomacy in New York

It may be too early to declare that the Obama administration and the Hatoyama cabinet have successfully managed the transition from LDP to DPJ, but this week was clearly a step in the right direction.

At the start of the week, Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in New York City, which, at least according to this Asahi report, entailed a frank and open discussion of the two most pressing issues for the alliance, Japan's refueling mission in support of coalition activities in Afghanistan and the Futenma question. Okada described Clinton as "not obstinate" when it came to hearing the DPJ government's concerns. Okada also told reporters Thursday that the government would begin its own review of plans for replacing Futenma with a facility within Okinawa.

The bigger meeting — bigger in terms of symbolism if not substance — was between Hatoyama Yukio and Barack Obama Wednesday. Obama singled out Hatoyama for praise for "running an extraordinary campaign and his party leading dramatic change in Japan." He also exhibited his ability to empathize, linking his own experiences in office to the DPJ, saying, "I know how it feels to have just been elected and form a government and suddenly you have to appear at a range of international summits; I went through this nine months ago. But I'm very confident that not only will the Prime Minister succeed in his efforts and his campaign commitments, but that this will give us an opportunity to strengthen and renew a U.S.-Japan alliance that will be as strong in the 21st century as it was in the latter half of the 20th century." In contrast to some commentators in Washington, Obama delivered an unambiguous message to the DPJ: he recognizes the DPJ's victory as significant and historic, and will not react with panic just because they have some concerns about the alliance. Not the days of George and Junichiro or Ron and Yasu, but so much the better for the relationship — a much more businesslike partnership. As I've argued about Obama in the past, his administration's focus is on solving problems, whether the problems are within the bilateral relationship or whether it is a matter of what role Japan can play in solving global problems. His administration will listen, it may well yield, but it seems unlikely that the US government will accept the use of the traditional mantras to paper over problems in the relationship.

Sankei suggests that the Obama-Hatoyama meeting was precisely that, papering over problems: the joint statement made no mention, after all, of the problems discussed by Clinton and Okada. This is a silly complaint. When have two leaders at a summit actually used the joint press conference to discuss an unresolved issue that the two governments are in the process of hammering out? And as far as the Japanese government is concerned, the heavy lifting will be done by Okada. No, the summit seems to have went as well as a photo-op summit could go.

But what I find more interesting than the Hatoyama government's efforts to get the new US-Japan relationship off to a good start is what the Hatoyama government sought to achieve in its Asia policy in New York.

Revealingly, it was not Obama and Hatoyama who referred to each other by their first names but Hatoyama and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The two met for forty minutes, and apparently Hatoyama was deeply impressed with Rudd's knowledge of "regime change" in Japan. While conservatives railed against Hatoyama's discussions with Chinese President Hu Jintao of an East Asian community, the real story is not the distant dream of an East Asia integrated like the EU but the prospects for partnership between Hatoyama and the leaders of East Asia's other middle powers, symbolized by the exchange between Hatoyama and Rudd. In the past I noted the affinities between Rudd's vision for Asia and former Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo's. I have also noted the affinities between Fukuda and Hatoyama when it comes to Asia. The point is that greater links among the governments of Japan, Australia, South Korea, and the ASEAN member states are to be expected. These are not the links envisioned by Abe, Bush, and Howard administrations back in 2007, the defunct quadrilateral that included India but not South Korea and that emphasized shared values, democracy, and security cooperation. It is too early to say what precisely will come of greater cooperation among these countries, but given their shared concerns, the relationships will continue to deepen.

Accordingly, there seems to be a tendency among some in Japan to assume that when DPJ officials refer to an "Asia-centered" foreign policy, Asia is a code word for China. But while the Hatoyama government wants a constructive relationship with China — much like its predecessors did — there is clearly more to Asia than China, and more to cooperation in Asia than cooperation with China. Despite Komori Yoshihisa's alarmism about how an East Asian community will mean the dissolution of Japan, the reality is that an East Asian community that includes all the countries that participate in the East Asian Summit would be a means of "enmeshing" China, much as the ASEAN countries have found ways to cooperate with China while quietly increasing security ties with the US. (See this monograph by Evelyn Goh for more on how Southeast Asian states have maneuvered between the US and China.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Practical politics, symbolic conservatism, and the decline of the LDP

The LDP's presidential race is in full swing, and Tanigaki Sadakazu appears to be in command of the race against Kono Taro and Nishimura Yasutoshi. Polls of LDP Diet members suggest that Tanigaki enjoys the support of roughly a majority of the party's 199 Diet members; Yomiuri has Tanigaki with 102 votes, Nishimura with 30, with Kono with 28, with 39 members undecided. Tanigaki has secured the support of the party establishment, which, given the LDP's demographics after the general election, could well be the path to victory. Given these figures, it is little surprise that Kono is pinning his hopes on winning overwhelming in voting in the prefectural chapters, which will cast 300 votes in the election.

At the same time, the LDP is also trying to figure out what is to blame for the party's devastating defeat last month. One Sankei article notes that one group that studied the election found that the LDP's notorious web commercials — especially this one — were well viewed, but were poorly received by those who viewed them, prompting Sankei to ask whether the Internet ads are to blame. The survey was conducted online and had a small sample size, so the idea that the LDP somehow lost because of its Internet ads is absurd (although I'm willing to buy the argument that negative LDP ads combined with the DPJ's positive campaigning may have mattered on the margins). The point is there is no shortage of explanations for why the LDP lost this general election, and undoubtedly many of them have some validity.

One factor that I find worth exploring is the role played by the LDP's virtual abandonment of bread-and-butter issues — pensions especially — to the DPJ. The 2007 upper house election and the 2009 general election were contested over issues on which the DPJ's positions were overwhelmingly favored by the voting public, insofar as the elections can be said to have been concerned with policy. While voters may have had their doubts about various DPJ proposals, the DPJ managed to tell a convincing story of how LDP rule had faltered and why "regime change" was necessary. Central to this story is the LDP's yielding livelihood issues in the years since the end of the bubble economy.

In short, the LDP did not have to lose, at least in the manner in which it lost this year. A critical factor in explaining the LDP's collapse is, I believe, a shift in how the LDP presented itself to the public. Despite having been the party that presided over the economic miracle and guided Japan — with the bureaucracy, of course — to a position of global economic prowess while maintaining social equality, by 2007 the LDP had abandoned this legacy.

Perhaps it is unusual to speak of the LDP's having "abandoned" its legacy. After all, perhaps the LDP didn't abandon its legacy. Perhaps it was punished not for having bad intentions but simply for policy failures: the economy stagnated, LDP-led governments tried to stimulate the economy, failed, and in the process tied the government's hands with tight budgets, leading to austerity that were invariably felt in different forms throughout Japan and reinforced the image of a Japan that had become less equal and more harsh for many Japanese. (Perhaps the export-led boom during the earlier part of the decade was a poisoned chalice for the LDP, in that it kept urban areas buoyant, thereby reinforcing the image of a profound gap between center and periphery.)

But I would argue that it was not simply a matter of the LDP's having tried certain policies and failed. The idea I'm toying with considers how the LDP became a different party during the 1990s, culminating in the government of Abe Shinzo, which, given the support Abe had upon taking office and the manner in which he frittered it away (destroying himself in the process). From the early 1990s until 2007 the LDP shifted not just from center to right, but from pragmatism to idealism. It shifted from the realm of practical politics — which has as its fundamental concern the livelihoods of the Japanese people — into the realm of symbolic politics, Japan's cultural war.

Before I continue, I want to discuss this division between practical politics and symbolic politics. Foreign observers have long puzzled over how to think about ideological divisions in Japanese politics. It is hard to deny that ideological divisions between left and right were an important feature of postwar Japanese politics, especially in the early postwar decades. This division was rooted in the culture war that followed Japan's defeat in World War II. Not unlike Germany after World War I and the United States after Vietnam, Japanese intellectuals and politicians were polarized largely along lines related to the war. The idealistic left saw Imperial Japan and war as the great enemy and sought to prevent Japan's return to the dark valley. Because the US had "reversed course," because it had permitted the return of so many officials associated with Imperial Japan when it realized that Japan was needed as an ally during the cold war, and because in the eyes of the Japanese left US actions against the Soviet Union (with whom the left sympathized, to say the least) risked plunging Japan and the world into conflagration, opposition to the US-Japan alliance became a cultural question as much as it was a political question. Kishi Nobusuke expressed surprise at the opposition to his revised alliance treaty in 1960, which was, after all, a better deal for Japan than the 1951 treaty: but the forceful opposition that drove Kishi from power was responding less to the content of the treaty than the fact that Japan, under the leadership of the former Class A war criminal Kishi Nobusuke (whose ideas about the Japanese economy during the war amounted to Japanese-style national socialism), was in danger of returning to its wartime identity as a participant in power politics and active ally of the "imperialist" US. The treaty protests were, after all, preceded by successful left-wing demonstrations against the 1958 revision of the Police Execution of Duties Law, which the left feared signified a return to wartime repression.

At its founding, the LDP was a party ready to push back against the left in Japan's culture war. Recall that in its founding charter the LDP declared that one of the party's fundamental goals was the restoration of Japanese independence, which for Kishi and others meant in practice revision of the 1951 security treaty and revision of the 1947 constitution. It also meant an unabashed admiration for prewar and wartime Japanese society, in which citizens did their duty in service of the Emperor, based on a mystical bound between sovereign and people. As postwar political theorist Maruyama Masao wrote in his essay "Theory and Psychology of Ultra-Nationalism:"
Japanese nationalism...was never prepared to accept a merely formal basis of validity. The reason that the actions of the nation cannot be judged by any moral standard that supersedes the nation is not that the Emperor creates norms from scratch (like the sovereign in Hobbes's Leviathan) but that absolute values are embodied in the person of the Emperor himself, who is regarded as 'the eternal culmination of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful throughout all ages and in all places.'
This is an idea with staying power for the idealistic right: Abe, after all, spoke of the emperor as the loom that has weaved the tapestry of Japan (mentioned here), and the right obviously continues to attribute tremendous importance to Imperial family and its "unbroken line" of sovereigns.

The idealistic right was concerned not only with the position of the emperor in the postwar system: the right-wing position in the culture war addressed larger questions of Japanese nationhood and Japan's place in the world. The difference between left and right was not internationalism versus nationalism, but the left's neutralist, pacifist nationalism versus the right's great-power nationalism. The idealistic right effectively inherited Meiji-era Social Darwinism that saw the world as a dangerous place in which the "fittest" nations were those capable of besting others in conflict. That Japan was virtually occupied after 1951 — given the domestic role the initial alliance treaty accorded to US forces in Japan — and that Japan's ability to compete with other nations was constrained by the "pacifist" constitution drafted by the American occupiers were terrible affronts to the idealistic right, and in practical terms they prevented Japan from contributing fully to the struggle against communism (unyielding anti-communism being another inheritance from the prewar right, despite Kishi's flirtations with leftism while at Tokyo University — indeed, despite his being branded a leftist by his enemies when he was a senior official at the ministry of commerce and industry during the 1930s). The result was that security policy was as much a matter of symbolism for both the left and the right as it was a matter of practical policy concerning budgets, troop strength, procurement, and the like. The Self-Defense Forces, Article IX, and the US-Japan alliance are the prizes over which the idealistic left and right have fought until the present day, in addition to the Imperial family and the education system, the latter with particular resonance as the left sought to prevent the right from rebuilding the education system along cherished prewar principles.

Earlier I compared Japan's symbolic culture war with interwar Germany and post-Vietnam America. There appears to be something about losing wars that results in a continuation of the lost war by other means among domestic political actors as they struggle to rebuild after defeat. Part of rebuilding the shattered nation involves, of course, assigning blame for the defeat and taking steps to ensure that the disaster would not be repeated again. (Perhaps it is controversial for me to include America on this list, but I think when one looks at what American conservatives say about the U.S. defeat in Vietnam and about what happened on the home front during the war, indeed their propensity to blame the 1960s for much of what is wrong with the US today, I think post-Vietnam American politics may follow the same lines as the other examples.)

But the culture war was by no means the whole of Japanese politics. Indeed, the interesting story in the 1960 struggle over the US-Japan security treaty was how the LDP ultimately won the struggle. The LDP was by no means united in sharing Kishi's revisionist and idealistic vision for Japan. While the first principle in the LDP's policy platform in 1955 stressed "the people's morality" and "education reform" and the second stressed reforming the electoral system and the national administration (the politicians have been at this for a while), the third and fourth goals were "economic independence" and "creating a welfare state." There were plenty of LDP members in 1960 who could be called — to borrow the slogan from the DPJ — the seikatsu dai-ichi right, conservatives who stressed the importance of economic reconstruction and egalitarianism as the best weapon against communism. Yoshida Shigeru looms large over this school of thought and it was, of course, Yoshida's protege Ikeda Hayato who succeeded Kishi, promulgated his "income doubling" plan, and stressed a "low posture" in governing. The Yoshida school, and later Tanaka Kakuei and his followers were grounded in practical politics: symbolic politics and the culture war with the left continued to rage, but was pushed to the margins of the party. The Socialist Party, rather than adapt to an LDP that had shifted from symbolic to practical politics, continued to wage its quixotic battle against the idealistic wing of the LDP, which was the "anti-mainstream" from Kishi's ouster until the end of the cold war. As such, the party system that emerged from 1960 saw the bulk of the LDP monopolizing practical, livelihood politics, which enabled it to co-opt ideas from the opposition when challenged (environmental issues in the late 1960s, for example). While corruption scandals weakened the strength of the LDP as a whole, the mainstream, practical LDP remained in control of the party and developed a system that enabled it to cooperate with the JSP — behind the veil of the Kokutai system — and the centrist, urban-based small parties that emerged after 1960.

The problem, however, is that by marginalizing the idealistic right within the LDP, Japan's culture war was essentially frozen in place. The idealistic right never had to modify its views, and thus even today conservatives makes many of the same arguments that their antecedents made in the 1950s and 1960s. Hailing back to the LDP charter, Abe's first "accomplishment" was revising the occupation-era basic education law. More significantly, Abe saw constitution revision — grandfather Kishi's unfinished business — as his government's raison d'etre and the basis upon which the LDP would contest the 2007 upper house election. Even the changes in security policy were as much about symbolism as they were about enhancing Japan's defense capabilities. The defense agency was upgraded to a ministry without fixing the agency's structural problems. Building a Japanese-style national security council, a plan abandoned when Abe left office, seemed more like an effort to acquire the trappings of a twenty-first-century great power than a fundamental transformation of Japanese security policy making. Revising the restriction on the exercise of collective self-defense could have had practical implications but was left unrealized. Meanwhile the defense budget continued to shrink and the defense procurement process — exposed as entirely rotten by the Moriya scandal that blew open just as Abe left office — went unreformed, these being two critical goals that a practical conservative like Ishiba Shigeru desperately wants to reverse in order to enhance Japan's ability to defend itself.

(Ishiba is an interesting figure. He seems to have little patience with the symbolic agenda. A defense policy wonk, he wants to make policies that strengthen Japan's defense, not symbolic measures that accord with some vision of how Japan ought to be. Little wonder that Ishiba criticized Abe after the 2007 upper house election, and that he wound up as defense minister in the eminently practical cabinet of Fukuda Yasuo.)

What changed since the early 1990s is familiar enough. I have previously discussed the monograph by Richard Samuels (my mentor at MIT) and J. Patrick Boyd, my colleague, in which they tell the story of how the LDP's pragmatists and the pacifist left worked together to resist the idealist, revisionist right on the question of constitution revision. They argue that from the early 1990s, the LDP became a more revisionist party as the practical wing of the party was weakened as the result of reforms that weakened faction heads and other party organs and strengthened the party leadership. Their argument is essentially that the LDP's old, practical mainstream was reformed to the point of being marginalized within the party, which may be true, but I wonder whether the practical conservatives also suffered as a result of their having been the ones in charge of the party as the economy foundered and as the bureaucrats — their allies in power — became deeply unpopular following a series of scandals. Indeed, it is ironic that Hashimoto Ryutaro, the heir of the mainstream tradition, was the architect of reforms that contributed to the rise of the idealists.

How did the rise of the revisionists contribute to the LDP's defeat last month? Not surprisingly I see the Abe government as the crucial turning point. It was not necessarily Koizumi Junichiro who doomed the party. Had Koizumi passed power to a successor with greater ties with practical conservatism, a successor who would have sought to reconcile structural reform with the growing perception of inequality on the part of the public, the LDP might have been able to hold out for longer against Ozawa Ichiro's DPJ, which successfully seized the "practical" mantle abandoned by the LDP as it embraced the symbolic. Instead the rise of the revisionists made it possible for Abe, virtually a living fossil of the pre-Ikeda LDP, to succeed Koizumi despite having virtually no experience in governing. Abe became prime minister despite having won only five elections and having never held ministerial positions other than a few years as a deputy chief cabinet secretary and less than a year as the chief cabinet secretary during Koizumi's victory lap. Under the old LDP system, Abe would never have become prime minister when he did (certainly a commendable feature of the old system).

The result was that at precisely the moment that the inequality problem became a grave public concern and the public lost confidence in the pensions system, the LDP was led by a politician who, indifferent to economic policy and the livelihoods of the people he governed, did little more than repeat Koizumi's slogans, while devoting his attention to the planks of a fifty-year-old party agenda. It was also at roughly the same moment that control of the DPJ passed to Ozawa, who saw that as the LDP moved in the direction of symbolic politics voters who had reliably supported the LDP when it was controlled by the practical right were increasingly disenchanted with the party and open to the possibility of voting for the DPJ. Ozawa's DPJ effectively grabbed the mantle of the old LDP mainstream. Seikatsu dai-ichi, the DPJ's slogan in the 2007 upper house election, could have served well as the slogan of the LDP from Ikeda onwards. I do not think it was coincidental that when I visited Kagawa last month, the granddaughter of Ohira Masayoshi, one in the line of practical conservative prime ministers, was campaigning on behalf of a DPJ candidate.

The DPJ as a party, especially under Ozawa, has studiously avoided symbolic politics and stayed focus on improving the lives of the people. By contrast, the LDP's campaign last month was largely symbolic: warnings about the influence of Nikkyoso, the "radical" teachers' union, the DPJ's disrespect for the flag, the party's "leftism" and inability to defend Japan, and so forth. Aso fully embraced the culture war as he campaigned around the country and warned of the dangers of DPJ rule. Of course, the dangers voters were concerned about were dangers to their jobs and their pensions.

To return to power — or, at the very least, viability — the LDP needs to reorient itself to practical politics. Tanigaki, a heir of the old mainstream, may be able to take some steps in this direction, but the idealist conservatives remain powerful, not least because Abe, Aso, and others will continue to be active in debates over the party's future. Some party leaders will no doubt continue to advocate a return to Abe's agenda of "leaving behind the postwar system" (the system built by the LDP mainstream, incidentally). It may be that the idealists are outnumbered, and that should Tanigaki win the LDP might once again focus primarily on livelihood concerns and develop a sophisticated and detailed critique of the DPJ's agenda while offering its own proposals. If so, so much the better for Japan: two large parties debating how best to ensure economic security and opportunity for the Japanese people, with atavistic culture warriors confined to the margins of the political system.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Containing Kamei

While Okada Katsuya was securing his position as the undisputed leader in foreign policy making, Kamei Shizuka has made immediately clear that he was going to be a source of trouble for the Hatoyama government as minister of postal reform and financial services.

I already noted Friday that Kamei had used a press conference following a cabinet meeting to warn Haraguchi Kazuhiro, the minister for internal affairs and communciations, to stay off his turf, namely halting the privatization of the postal system. At the same time, Kamei, using his perch as director-general of the Financial Services Agency, has called for a three-year moratorium on the repayment of loans by small-and-medium-sized enterprises, which would naturally be devastating for banks, which, after all, not too long ago were laboring under the burden of bad debt to the point that they eventually required the infusion of public funds. Naturally markets have not taken kindly to Kamei's remarks. (Sasayama Tatsuo has more on radical financial regulations proposed by the People's New Party.)

Kamei also attacked Kan Naoto and the national strategy bureau as being intended to undermine the basic policy cabinet committee composed of Kamei, the SDPJ's Fukushima Mizuho, and Kan as the DPJ representative.

Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa tried to calm worries, noting that while there is a precedence for this action — in 1927, in the midst of Japan's depression — the situation is not nearly so bad as that. But Kamei reiterated on NHK Sunday that implementing this program is his responsibility (although he said he would be "borrowing" the wisdom of the finance minister).

While Kamei's remarks are irresponsible, I do not think that they are indicative of anything more than Kamei's insecure position within the cabinet. Having no real authority of his own, of course he is going to throw elbows and try to find an area in which he can take the lead. It is unlikely that he will lead on either postal reform or this moratorium scheme — and it is unlikely that the cabinet will simply sign off on the moratorium scheme as floated by Kamei. Little wonder that he also attacked the NSB as undermining the one area in which he is sure to have some influence, the cabinet committee to coordinate among the government parties.

Fujii needs to speak that much more decisively on Kamei's irrelevancy on this matter. Perhaps he can sit on a cabinet committee, in which his views would be reliably drowned out by Fujii and whoever else they found to round out the group. All of which goes to suggest that investors and commentators should not overreact to Kamei's freelancing — he still has to convince his colleagues in the cabinet that his ideas are sensible.

However, refereeing turf battles is one role that Hatoyama Yukio should be playing. He should not be leaving his team of rivals to resolve their own disputes. Hatoyama as prime minister should be issuing orders to ministers and establishing boundaries. How many more days is he going to let Kamei make extravagant claims to the media about the powers of his portfolio?

Of course, there is also a media relations story here too. If Hatoyama were to appoint a press secretary to coordinate media affairs, he might not be able to keep Kamei from putting himself in front of cameras, but the media could then go to the press secretary who would stress that Kamei has no authority to speak on behalf of the cabinet as a whole and that policy X has not yet been submitted to a cabinet meeting for a decision. The government needs to control its image and it needs to control its message. For the moment, it seems to be having a hard time when it comes to dealing with Kamei.

But it is still early in the government's tenure, which is the final point. The policymaking process is still nothing more than a framework. It is still unclear which ministers will emerge as the leaders who make the cabinet work. It is far too early to say that Kamei, a minor minister on the basis of his portfolio if not on the basis of his party position, will wreck the government. But some cabinet ministers and the prime minister are going to have to find a way to manage the obstreperous leader of one of the DPJ's tiny coalition partners.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Okada diplomacy

Not even a week into the Hatoyama government, it is clear that Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya will be a force to be reckoned with in the new cabinet.

Even before the government formed, Okada raised the alarm that the new national strategy bureau would encroach on his turf in foreign policy making — prompting Hatoyama Yukio to stress that the bureau's primary task will be budgeting (i.e., it will not follow Okada's lead on foreign policy, if it plays any foreign policy role at all).

In the days since the government formed, Okada has become the sole voice on the DPJ-led government's approach to the world, which for the moment means the U.S.-Japan relationship.

The point is not that the policy content of Okada's diplomacy is markedly different from the party as a whole. Rather, Okada has made clear in his public remarks that he will be the voice of the government on foreign policy, not a bad thing seeing that he is perhaps the most articulate member of the government when it comes to explaining why the DPJ wants a more equal partnership with the US, what that will mean in practice, and why Asia should be at the center of Japan's foreign policy — and why that is a good thing for the US. (See his interview in the FT here.) And he has shown on multiple occasions that he has a knack for showing why efforts to paint the DPJ's foreign policy beliefs as anti-American are mistaken.

Meanwhile, it seems clear from Okada's remarks that the DPJ will try to get everything it wants on the alliance. I thought it possible that if the Obama administration continued to say no to any discussion of Futenma, that the Hatoyama government — having softened its language on negotiations — might sound a retreat so as not to have a dispute with the US harming its position in advance of the 2010 upper house election. But Okada has said that the government wants to come to a decision with the US on Futenma within the year, or "100 days," as he told the FT.

Okada said that the reason for the rush is to ensure necessary outlays are included in next year's budget, but it also looks that from a political standpoint, scoring a quick and substantial diplomatic victory — and showing that under a DPJ government Japan can be allied with the US while still disagreeing over the details of bilateral cooperation — could neutralize foreign policy as an issue in the 2010 upper house election. It is not that voters are all that concerned about whether there needs to be a new realignment agreement, but that voters may be looking for reasons to question the DPJ's capabilities and cast a protest vote for the LDP next year. Recall that the LDP polled substantially better than the DPJ when it came to which party respondents felt more confident in on foreign and security policy. But if the DPJ's push for renegotiation results in another round of protracted, working-level discussions, its gambit could fail or at least do little to win the government recognition for boldness in foreign policy.

For its part, the Obama administration appears more pliant than it did last week, when talk was of Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell's encouraging Japan to continue the refueling mission, not long after Morrell's State Department counterpart completely ruled out renegotiating the agreement on realignment. While in Tokyo, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell stressed that while the administration wants to stick with the current agreement, "We can’t dictate. We have to listen, and clearly the new government has committed to some reviews in terms of certain aspect of our alliance." Hardly a guarantee of renegotiation, but a marked change of tone from earlier remarks from spokesmen. Elsewhere, Derek Mitchell, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian-Pacific affairs, said that the administration is not alarmed over DPJ questions over how Japanese government contributions will be spent in Guam.

At the same time, the Obama administration may also not be particularly eager to rush to forge a new agreement before the end of the year. I expect that Okada may press for a new agreement to be ready when President Barack Obama visits Japan in November, but that strikes me a wildly optimistic.

At least Okada is aware that, in advance of his and Hatoyama's trip to the US this week, Japan cannot only say no and expect the US to be cooperative. Okada did rule out sending the JSDF to Afghanistan in an appearance on TV Asahi Sunday, but that comes as no surprise. But Prime Minister Hatoyama hopes to secure approval in New York for Japan's broadening its support for stabilizing the Afghan economy and society.

While Hatoyama will be the one speaking in New York, Okada has already made clear that he will be the man to listen to on the Hatoyama government's foreign policy. Okada, no less committed to the DPJ's foreign policy agenda, is clearly more realistic when it comes to his understanding of the give-and-take of the alliance relationship.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Hatoyama government fills more positions and gets to work

On Friday the Hatoyama cabinet met and continued its work of reforming Japan's policymaking system.

The cabinet decided to create the national strategy office under the leadership of Kan Naoto, pending legislation to elevate the office to a full bureau attached to the cabinet. Another cabinet decision created the Administrative Renovation Council (ARC), which will nominally be headed by Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio but will be managed by Sengoku Yoshito, a cabinet-level minister. Discussing the NSO, Kan stressed its role in economic planning and fiscal policy, and said the office's role would be controlling the "planning, drafting, and synthesis of the cabinet's important policies." The ARC's role is less clear, having some as-yet-undefined role in the budgeting process.

Another important but relatively unheralded institutional reform was announced on Thursday. As stressed by Kan in his July Chuo Koron essay — seriously, read it if you haven't read it yet, it's essential to understanding the DPJ's thinking as it reorganizes the government (I discussed it here) — essential to making the cabinet more dynamic is conducting its work in cabinet committees dealing with specific issue areas. Most significantly, the government announced that among the first cabinet committees would be a budget committee, an institutional feature of the Westminster system singled out for praise by Kan. The budget committee's members will be Kan, Fujii Hirohisa, the finance minister, Sengoku, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi. The government will also create an environment committee composed of Hirano, Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya, METI Minister Naoshima Masayuki, and Environment Minister Ozawa Sakihito. It is unclear precisely how these cabinet committees will interact with the cabinet as a whole, but they should help streamline the policymaking process.

Naturally creating the budget committee — in addition to setting up the NSO, of course — is essential as the Hatoyama government prepares to redraw the budget. On Thursday Fujii stressed that the government would be taking a scalpel to "hothouses of LDP interests." Fujii introduced another approach the government would take to raising revenue in addition to cutting waste: it would investigate the efficiency of the special measures law on taxation. Fujii said the government would draft a law calling for an investigation by the Diet and the Board of Audit into the law, with an eye towards rationalizing it and possibly widening the tax base by closing tax loopholes that have favored certain corporations. As Sankei notes, closing loopholes would not only secure new sources of revenue for the government, it would also shed light on the relationship among politicians, bureaucrats, and interest groups under LDP rule (politically convenient in advance of next year's upper house election).

In Friday's cabinet meeting, meanwhile, the government issued a cabinet decision officially suspending a portion of the Aso government's stimulus package. The goal is to redirect roughly 3 trillion yen to next year's budget to pay for DPJ programs included in the manifesto.

The government has also announced its twenty-two parliamentary vice ministers, as well as the vice minister serving under Kan at the NSO. In this last position the cabinet named Furukawa Motohisa, a former finance ministry official and one of the DPJ's rising stars. Furukawa's appointment to the NSO reinforces the idea that its primary task will be taking control of the budgeting process. Joining Furukawa at the cabinet office will be Oshima Atsushi, a four-term lower-house member from Saitama, and Ootsuka Kohei, a two-term upper house member from Aichi who previously worked for the Bank of Japan, has written extensively on the Japanese economy, and has earned respect in the Diet for his expertise. It bears noting that these three appointees have spent their entire careers as DPJ members.

The same applies to the ministry of internal affairs and communications, the vice ministers of which will be Watanabe Shu, a five-term lower house member from Shizuoka, and Naito Masamitsu, a two-term upper house member from Tokyo; the justice ministry, where Kato Koichi, a four-term lower house member from Tokyo and former shadow vice justice minister, has been appointed vice minister; the foreign ministry, where Takemasa Koichi, a four-term lower house member from Saitama who is close to Noda Yoshihiko (also from Saitama), and Fukuyama Tetsuro, a two-term upper house member from Kyoto in the Maehara group (Maehara is also from Kyoto), will be the vice ministers; the environment ministry, whose vice minister will be Tajima Issei, a three-term lower house member; and the defense ministry, the vice minister of which will be two-term upper house member from Shizuoka Shinba Kazuya.

The remaining ministries are more mixed. Neither vice minister of finance — Noda and Minezaki Naoki — began his career in the DPJ (Noda in the Japan New Party, Minezaki in the Socialist Party). In the education ministry, former shadow finance minister Nakagawa Masaharu began his career as a New Frontier Party member but has been in the DPJ since its second creation in 1998 — and he is joined by Tokyo upper house member Suzuki Kan, who has belonged only to the DPJ. In the health, labor, and welfare ministry, neither Hosokawa Ritsuo nor Nagahama Hiroyuki began their careers in the DPJ (Socialist Party and Japan New Party respectively). In the agriculture ministry, Yamada Masahiko, who began his career in Ozawa Ichiro's Japan Renewal Party is balanced by DPJ-only upper house member Gunji Akira. Neither vice minister at METI is DPJ-only: Matsushita Tadahiro is a PNP member and was first elected as an LDP member in the auspicious election of 1993, Mashiko Teruhiko won two lower house terms as an LDP member in the early 1990s, defected, and eventually wound up in the DPJ and is now an upper house member from Fukushima. The vice ministerships at the land ministry are split between SDPJ member Tsujimoto Kiyomi and career DPJ member Mabuchi Sumio.

The point of investigating the backgrounds of the vice ministers is to show that even if the ministers picked their own vice ministers — as the DPJ said — the ministers may have been picking from a subset of potential appointees and may have had some restrictions. In ministries with two vice ministers, the two posts are split between members of the two houses — and in all but one case the upper house member last won reelection in 2007 and will therefore not have to worry about campaigning for the 2010 upper house election. Meanwhile, the point of identifying sub-cabinet members who have spent their entire careers in the DPJ is simply to show that the DPJ has been cultivating young talent and is not simply composed of outcasts from other parties. In the cases of Furukawa, Watanabe, Nakagawa, and a few others, these are rising DPJ members expected to vie for the party leadership in the future. (Richard Samuels and Patrick Boyd included both Nakagawa and Watanabe on a short list of DPJ future leaders in their article "Prosperity's Children.")

As this expanding Hatoyama government sets to work, it can for the time being count on the support of the public. Asahi's first public opinion poll found 71% approval for the new government. Moreover, 52% of respondents said they approved of the cabinet lineup, compared with only 14% who disapproved. When it came to policy, respondents approved of child allowances 60% to 30%; disapproved of lifting tolls on public highways 67% to 24% (little surprise that Maehara Seiji pledged prudence on this matter); supported the DPJ's plan to unify the pensions system and establish a 70,000 yen monthly minimum for pensions by 75% to 16%; and approved of lifting the gasoline surcharge 56% to 30%. Asked whether the DPJ could cut waste, 61% said yes, 26% said no. Respondents were slightly in favor of Ozawa's serving as secretary general, and overwhelmingly approved of the statement that the government should take the PNP's and SDPJ's opinions into consideration whenever possible, 61% to 31%.

Mainichi found similar support: 77% approval for the new cabinet, second only to Koizumi Junichiro's first cabinet. 68% were hopeful regarding Hatoyama's cabinet picks. Yomiuri recorded 75% approval, also second only to the first Koizumi cabinet's. (Yomiuri's poll also found 69% of respondents unconvinced by Hatoyama's explanation of his campaign finance problem.)

Even the DPJ's most intractable opponent within the bureaucracy is coming around. Ichide Michio, the administrative vice minister of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, no doubt fearing for his job, said that he accepts the leadership of Akamatsu Hirotaka, the new minister, who chastized Ichide for his past remarks critical of the DPJ's plans.

I call attention to these data points not because they guarantee the Hatoyama government's success, but because they show that in the early going everything is working in the new government's favor. The Hatoyama government has set itself up to succeed; the prime minister chose wisely in picking his cabinet ministers. But now the question is how the cabinet will proceed and whether it will be able to hold itself together as it moves an agenda through the Diet. There is already at least one hint of trouble (aside from the Ozawa question): Kamei Shizuka, whose portfolio includes the "postal issue," declared at a press conference following the cabinet meeting Friday that responsibility for the issue was his, not Haraguchi Kazuhiro's, the minister of internal affairs and communications.

Apologies to Ikeda Nobuo, as it took less than three days for Kamei to start trouble in the cabinet. Giving Kamei a portfolio but no administrative role for postal privatization was clearly going to be a source of conflict. It is not beyond managing — how about a cabinet committee? — but resolving this turf battle will be Hatoyama's first act of arbitration as the committee chairman prime minister. Clearly the downside of a team of rivals is that rivals fight from time to time, requiring management by the man in charge.

As Japan heads into Silver Week, the Hatoyama government's standing could not be better. But now it will have to sort out the budget and have its legislation ready for the Diet session scheduled to open in late October.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The LDP race begins

The race to succeed Aso Taro as LDP president begins today, with three candidates vying for the unenviable task of fixing a broken Liberal Democratic Party.

Surprisingly the race includes none of the candidates who Aso defeated to win the job last year: Ishiba Shigeru, despite being perhaps the most enthusiastic of the potential candidates, backed down earlier this week as Tanigaki Sadakazu gathered support from party elders.

Tanigaki, at sixty-four the oldest candidate in the race, faces two forty-six-year-old rivals, Kono Taro and Nishimura Yasutoshi. Kono is the articulate, intelligent, American-educated son of now-retired LDP elder statesman Kono Yohei; Nishimura is a three-term representative from Hyogo and former METI official. Neither of the younger candidates has ministerial experience, although Kono is renown for his policy expertise and has been parliamentary vice ministery of justice as well as chairman of the lower house foreign affairs committee (and has served five terms to Nishimura's three). Nishimura meanwhile is a former Machimura faction member, but half of his endorsements came from Machimura faction members.

As a result the race is not surprisingly being cast as a clash of generations: Tanigaki, not necessarily old but older and backed by the party's old guard, against Kono, scion of an old LDP family but brimming with policy ideas and reformist zeal, with Nishimura unlikely to cut into Kono's vote. For his part Tanigaki is trying to bridge generations by presenting himself as the most viable reform candidate, not the cat's paw of the factions.

The race is more unpredictable than it appeared after Tanigaki entered the race with the backing of senior party leaders, because the race will be decided not by the party's 199 Diet members but by the 300 votes wielded by prefectural chapters. A Yomiuri poll found Tanigaki and Kono running virtually even, with Tanigaki leading Kono 34% to 33%, with Nishmura receiving the support of a mere 2%. (Yamamoto Ichita, a Kono supporter, is heartened by these numbers.)

Were Kono to win, it would be a sign that LDP supporters are ready for the party to move in a new direction, even if the party's Diet members are more reluctant to do so. But electing Kono is also risky. While he would no doubt be more enthusiastic about reorganizing the party — for example along the lines proposed by the party revival council, which most notably called for the end of factions despite having said it would soften its position on the factions — he would probably have a harder time than Tanigaki getting party elders to commit to even modest reforms. He may be a more formidable challenger for the DPJ on policy terms, given Kono's policy expertise and seeing as how Tanigaki may be closest to the DPJ in terms of policy preferences. But it is difficult to see how Kono could succeed in remaking a party that after the election is top heavy in terms of the ratio of old to young. It would be all too easy party elders to resist Kono when it comes to fundamental reform. The election of Kono would bear at least superficial resemblance to the DPJ's election of Maehara Seiji following the disastrous 2005 election — resulting in Maehara's equally disastrous stint as party leader. Kono would not necessarily make the same political errors that doomed Maehara, but he would likely face even more daunting obstacles than Maehara faced.

A majority of the public expects that the LDP will be able to fix itself and remain the second pole in a two-party system. The problem in the party leadership election is that while Kono's election would have greater symbolism as a break with the past (despite his lineage), Tanigaki might be more capable of moving the LDP even modestly in a new direction. Nevertheless, LDP members have two good choices before them, and both represent a step forward for a party that in recent years has been characterized mostly by its distance from the concerns of the Japanese people.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The first day of the new era in Japanese politics

The DPJ wasted no time following the election of Hatoyama Yukio as prime minister Wednesday.

His cabinet lineup established, the DPJ-led government immediately set to work establishing a new relationship between the cabinet, DPJ backbenchers, and the bureaucracy.

Regarding the DPJ, its internal organizations, and its numerous backbenchers, the new government announced several measures to strip the DPJ of any policymaking role. On Wednesday morning Fujii Hirohisa, the new finance minister, reiterated an earlier pledge to abolish the party's tax commission and bolster the government's tax commission, reversing the situation that prevailed under the LDP. More significantly, the DPJ dissolved its policy research council completely. Contrary to earlier plans, Kan Naoto won't even carry the title of chair of the policy research council, because Ozawa Ichiro does not want cabinet members serving simultaneously in party posts. This single measure is a radical departure from LDP rule, under which the policy research council served as a shadow government, complete with committees and subcommittees mirroring the bureaus and offices of the bureaucracy. If bureaucrats wish to consult with politicians on policy, they'll have to go through cabinet ministers and the national strategy bureau.

The new government immediately established new regulations governing contact between bureaucrats and politicians not holding cabinet or sub-cabinet appointments. The regulations will require to bureaucrats to make the contents of all requests from Diet members known to their ministers — and bans, in principle, efforts by bureaucrats to influence Diet members. Abolishing the policy research council will close off an important avenue of influence under LDP governments. The government has also mandated that bureaucrats save records related to requests for subsidies, licenses, contracts, and the like from backbenchers and their secretaries.

Regarding the bureaucracy, the DPJ has made clear that it intends to constrain bureaucrats' activities. In particular, the DPJ plans to restrict media access to the bureaucracy, based on the idea that the cabinet is making policy and setting priorities and so its members should be responsible for explaining policies to the press, not the bureaucrats whose job is to execute the cabinet's policies. Discussing this proposal last week, Okada Katsuya naturally cited the British example: permanent secretaries in Whitehall do not give press conferences. Instead the government issued a new policy Wednesday. Political appointees in ministries will be responsible for communicating ministry policy to the media, and regular administrative vice ministerial press conferences are abolished. (To centralize explanations of the government's policies, the Hatoyama government ought to create a press secretary's office.) Naturally journalists have complained about this change.

The DPJ will also abolish the administrative vice ministers' council, which for 123 years has enabled bureaucrats to manage the work of the cabinet, as conservative newspapers did not fail to note in their reporting on its final meeting Monday. Bureaucrats will still meet amongst themselves, of course, but dissolving the council will strip them of a customary and powerful role in the policymaking process, hammering out disagreements across ministries before cabinet meetings.

The thinking underlying this framework can be found in a document released by the cabinet Wednesday. The document stresses that changing the balance of power between politicians and bureaucrats in favor of political leadership is essential to realizing "true democracy." This document is not a declaration of war on the bureaucracy as an institution. It is a constitutional document that aspires to restore constitutional government by ending the delegation of substantial powers from the cabinet to the bureaucracy. The second and third parts of the document contain most of the aforementioned regulations, but the first part explains the proper relationship between political leaders and bureaucrats, and the relationship of both with the public.

The role of politicians sent into ministries, the cabinet declared, is to command and supervise the work of officials on behalf of the public. Bureaucrats, meanwhile, are public servants — not a word regularly used to describe Japanese officialdom — and they are to implement the policies established by the public's representatives in government. They are to provide data to political leaders, present options for policies, and assist political leaders in the execution of their duties. The document stresses a division of labor between political leaders and officials: each should respect the other's responsibilities.

Ultimately these new regulations provide only a framework. It will take time for these principles to reshape the relationship in reality, time for bureaucrats to accept the leadership of politicians they may view as inferior, perhaps time even for politicians to accept that they are in fact the masters of the bureaucracy. Like any revolution, the DPJ's revolution in governance will entail a revolution in the mindsets of both politicians and bureaucrats.

But the Hatoyama government did not just outline a new framework for the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats on its first day in office. Its cabinet ministers hastened to set goals for the first weeks and months in office.

  • Regarding the 2010 budget, Fujii stated that the government would decide upon a plan for the 2010 budgeting process by the beginning of October. The government will abandon the ceiling for budgetary requests established by the Aso government and start from scratch and hasten to find ways to save money in order to budget for programs promised by the DPJ during the campaign, such as monthly child allowances. In order to free up funds for next year's budget, the government plans to halt the Aso government's stimulus programs. The finance ministry informed the DPJ last week that it may be possible to recover nearly 6 trillion yen in funds that have yet to be distributed. Indeed, it turns out that more than half the budgeted funds have yet to be distributed. Tango Yasutake, the administrative vice minister of finance, indicated the ministry's support for cutting stimulus funds earlier this week, suggesting that as the Hatoyama government begins work it is already building a working relationship with the finance ministry.
  • A critical player in drafting the new budget will be the national strategy bureau, the creation of which (or, its predecessor, the national strategy office, pending revision of the cabinet law) was one of the new government's first acts on Wednesday. Still no word, however, on who will be working under bureau chief Kan Naoto. Continuing on his theme of choice, Kan stressed that a cabinet budget committee will be created soon.
  • Okada Katsuya, the new foreign minister, also made several key policy statements Wednesday. First, he instructed the ministry to investigate the circumstances surrounding the "secret" US-Japan agreement on the introduction of US nuclear weapons into Japan, with a goal of having the report ready by the end of November. He also stressed that he will take a flexible approach to the resolution of the Futenma issue.
  • Relatedly, Kitazawa Toshimi, the new defense minister, said Wednesday that Japan will not be continuing its refueling mission in the Indian Ocean beyond the expiration of the enabling law in January.
Interestingly, as the Hatoyama government set to work, the LDP's Nakagawa Hidenao, who during the campaign said that preventing the DPJ from taking power was necessary to save Japan, wrote at his blog that the LDP ought to cooperate with the government as the new government works to shift power from the bureaucracy to the cabinet. He said that the LDP should in particular cooperate with the government to pass the legislation establishing the national strategy bureau. It seems that Nakagawa finally realizes that the DPJ is no less serious than Nakagawa and other LDP reformists about changing Japanese governance — indeed, arguably the DPJ's leaders are even more serious and have more comprehensive plans than anything LDP governments have offered in the way of administrative reform.

A new era in Japanese politics has truly begun.

Japan has a new prime minister

Following in the footsteps of Hatoyama Ichiro, his grandfather, Hatoyama Yukio has been elected as Japan's ninety-third prime minister, a moment being compared by Hatoyama and others to great turning points in Japan's history.

Whether this moment proves worthy of such a description will depend on the new prime minister and his cabinet. He inherits a government badly in need of reform and a stagnant economy.

Good luck, Mr. Prime Minister. You'll need it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hatoyama delivers an impressive cabinet

The votes are being counted in the House of Representatives, after which the House of Councillors will vote for the new prime minister. Hatoyama Yukio's election as the next prime minister is assured.

On the eve of his election by the Diet, Hatoyama decided the presumptive lineup of his cabinet — but he did not share it with the press Tuesday, warning that if appointments "are leaked, they will be changed." (Hatoyama actually deserves credit for his handling of the press regarding cabinet appointments during the past two weeks: he said he would hold off on making announcements, and he has stuck to it, offering little to the press when questioned. Undoubtedly he has made few friends among the media as a result.)

But the list itself, now public, is impressive. In addition to already-known appointments of Kan Naoto (deputy prime minister and head of the national strategy bureau), Okada Katsuya (foreign minister), Fujii Hirohisa (finance minister), and Hirano Hirofumi (chief cabinet secretary), the Hatoyama cabinet includes as host of senior DPJ politicians balanced among the party's different groups. The balance led Yomiuri to refer to it as a "safe driving" cabinet, as if safe driving is a bad thing after Aso Taro's reckless driving (how else to refer to his appointment of Nakagawa Shoichi as finance minister during a severe global financial crisis, after all?). Appointing ministers from across the party is a good way of ensuring that there will be lively debates in the cabinet and that there will be few senior politicians left in the party to cause trouble for Ozawa Ichiro and the cabinet. (Noda Yoshihiko, an "anti-mainstream" leader, was denied a cabinet post and has reportedly complained about it, but he has relatively little company.)

In addition to the aforementioned names, the cabinet will tentatively include the following:

Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a five-term member from Saga prefecture, will serve as minister of internal affairs and communications. Haraguchi is exceptional in that he actually held the same portfolio in the DPJ's shadow cabinet. In fact, he has held the postal reform portfolio in previous shadow cabinets, suggesting not inconsiderable familiarity with his brief. At fifty years old, he will be the third youngest member of the cabinet.

The justice minister will be Chiba Keiko, an upper-house member from Kanagawa who is unusual in that she is one of a tiny number of DPJ members who did not leave the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDPJ) until well after the party's ill-fated coalition with the LDP. Chiba is liberal on history and social issues, and has served as the shadow justice minister and the shadow minister for gender equality and human rights under various party leaders (including Maehara).

Kawabata Tatsuo, one of the party's vice presidents and an eight-term Diet member (first elected from the Democratic Socialist Party), will take the lengthy title of minister of education, culture, sports, science, and technology. Befitting his long service, Kawabata has held a number of party leadership positions, including chairman of the party's board of governors.

In a somewhat surprising move, Nagatsuma Akira, "Mister Nenkin," scourge of the Social Insurance Agency, will be Masuzoe Yoichi's successor as minister of health, labor, and welfare. At forty-nine he will be the second-youngest cabinet member. I think giving Nagatsuma a proper ministry is a brilliant stroke, ensuring that a problematic ministry will get an energetic minister strongly committed to the party's administrative reform program (and reforming social security) at its head, and giving Nagatsuma experience that will raise his national profile further. His popularity will no doubt be a boost for the cabinet.

The ministry of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries — perhaps the most problematic ministry — will go to Akamatsu Hirotaka, a seven-term Diet member who began his career in the Socialist Party and has been in the DPJ since its first iteration. He will have his work cut out for him.

Naoshima Masayuki and Maehara Seiji (at forty-seven the youngest cabinet member) received the economy, trade, and industry, and land, infrastructure, transport, and tourism portfolios respectively. Maehara will also hold portfolios for disaster relief, and Okinawan and Northern Territories affairs. (Perhaps the latter briefs are a way to give Maehara a voice in foreign policy discussions through the back door? Presumably any cabinet committee discussion of either issue will include Maehara.)

The environment ministry goes to Ozawa Sakihito, along with Hirano Hirofumi a close ally of Hatoyama's. A member of Sakigake and an original member of the DPJ, Ozawa's appointment may reflect the prime minister's interest in emissions controls.

After worries that the defense ministry would go to the PNP's Kamei Shizuka, the post will go to Kitazawa Toshimi, along with Maehara and Kawabata a party vice president. Kitazawa is also one of four upper house members in the cabinet. Coming from Nagano, it is not surprising that Kitazawa has long been close to former Prime Minister Hata Tsutomu, once Ozawa's co-conspirator in splitting from the LDP in 1993 and one of the participants in the creation of the new DPJ in 1998. He recently served as chair of the upper house foreign and defense policy committee.

Nakai Hitoshi, who first joined the DPJ in 2003 in the merger with the Liberal Party, will serve as head of the Public Safety Commission, and Ozawa critic Sengoku Yoshito will head the new Administrative Renovation council.

Also joining the cabinet will be SDPJ head Fukushima Mizuho, whose portfolio will include consumer affairs and the aging society problem, and PNP head Kamei Shizuka, whose portfolio will include the Financial Services Agency (FSA) and the postal issue. Kamei is pleased to have received this post, describing the appointment as "perfect." It is not clear, however, what role Kamei will play in dealing with Japan Post, as the ministry of internal affairs will continue to take the lead in managing postal affairs. The portfolio may simply assure Kamei a seat at the table without any attendant administrative responsibilities. Mainichi reports some unease from investors regarding Kamei's position as head of the FSA due to his opposition to "structural reform," although Kamei will likely have little independence regarding finance and investment. (And, incidentally, it was Kamei who reassured the Obama administration that Nakagawa Masaharu's remarks about Japan's buying only Samurai bonds under the DPJ was not an official statement.)

Ikeda Nobuo sees Kamei's participation in the cabinet as an ill omen for the Hatoyama government, citing shady dealings of Kamei's from the 1980s. I cannot speak to these rumors, but Ikeda makes one claim regarding Kamei's participation in the cabinet that I disagree with: Ikeda argues that Hatoyama will have a difficult time controlling Kamei and suggests that he could become a "bomb that destroys Japan's economy." I think that both Kamei and Fukushima will end up being marginal figures in the new government. Neither has an important portfolio, and with the DPJ aiming to move away from unanimous decision making in the cabinet, they will have little power to stop cabinet decisions. Their parties obviously have the ability to stop legislation in the upper house, but if they are included in the decision-making process from the beginning it should simplify management of the upper house. As MTC argues, the DPJ may need the two small parties beyond July 2010, and it makes good sense to include both leaders in the cabinet to streamline the policymaking process. Undoubtedly Kamei and Fukushima are simply happy to be in the cabinet. The DPJ has given up very little to secure their participation. I think worries about the two are, for now, overblown.

I think that Hatoyama did an extraordinary job picking his cabinet, for which he deserves credit. He has shown that he has no problem delegating authority to politicians who may have more policy expertise than him or independent standing within the DPJ. Few politicians in the cabinet are dependent on Hatoyama for his patronage. He will be surrounded by ministers who will have no problem disagreeing with the prime minister. But he also chosen talented ministers who by and large have been in the DPJ for most if not all of its existence, are committed to its policy programs (especially administrative reform), and are independent from Ozawa Ichiro. As I told Yuka Hayashi of the Wall Street Journal, Hatoyama as prime minister will be "more of a committee chairman than a president." He will have to manage debates among his ministers, intervening when appropriate, closing debates, and setting the policy agenda. But he will not be in a position to dictate policies to his cabinet and demand that the ministers follow along.

When it comes to cabinet personnel, Hatoyama has put his government in a position to succeed.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The strengths and weakness of Mr. Hatoyama's government

After meeting with Ozawa Ichiro Monday, it appears that Hatoyama Yukio will get Fujii Hirohisa as his finance minister after all. The party's executive board — comprised of the inner circle of party leaders, including Hatoyama, Ozawa, Kan Naoto, and Okada Katsuya — has approved the roster, which will now go before the party's board of governors Tuesday evening for final approval, the evening before the two houses of the Diet will pick a new prime minister. Meanwhile, Ozawa will have full discretion to choose the DPJ's executives.

While the prospective cabinet lineup will not be announced after this evening's meeting, its membership is becoming increasingly clear. An anonymous source close to Hatoyama referred to the cabinet as an "all-star cabinet." Strip away the hyperbole and there is considerable truth to the idea that Hatoyama has picked a cabinet of DPJ heavyweights, even without knowing the identities of more than half the likely cabinet ministers. Kan and Okada will now be joined by Fujii. Other names mentioned include party group leaders Maehara Seiji and Noda Yoshihiko, and Sengoku Yoshito, a senior party leader close to Maehara. Nagatsuma Akira will be joining the cabinet in some capacity, possibly as the minister responsible for the new "Administrative Renovation" council that will work to trim waste for the government's budget. Naoshima Masayuki, an upper house member currently serving as the chief of the party's policy research council, could enter the cabinet as minister for economy, trade, and industry.

Hatoyama is also providing more details about the national strategy bureau. Addressing Okada's concerns that the bureau will step on his turf as foreign minister, Hatoyama stressed Monday that the bureau's primary task from its creation will be drafting a framework for the 2010 budget. It is still unknown how the bureau will function and who will be appointed to it — Kan, its director, will have the power to shape its work but has said nothing about his thoughts for how it should work, prompting Sankei to warn darkly about the "ambitious" Kan's power in the new government. (Apparently the "opposition" newspaper has tired momentarily of warning about Ozawa's power over the new government.) But of course we do know something about how Kan wants the cabinet itself to function: he wants cabinet ministers to do the heavy lifting through cabinet committees, especially in drafting the budget, suggesting that he would be reluctant to turn the national strategy bureau into a shadowy office unaccountable to other members of the cabinet. I am more confident that the NSB will serve the cabinet with Kan in charge than if another politician were made responsible for the bureau. It also seems that only DPJ members will staff the office: no SDPJ or PNP members will be included in its ranks. Excluding the DPJ's coalition partners from the office that will play an important role in shaping the government's agenda reinforces the idea that the DPJ is trying to limit the ability of its coalition partners to veto its policies.

It does appear that Hatoyama, far from being a presidential-style prime minister towering over his cabinet, will in fact be first among equals, the head of a committee of powerful politicians. The core of the cabinet will be comprised of some of the most experienced politicians the party has to offer, politicians who are distant from Ozawa and have their own followings within the DPJ, critical because a strong cabinet will have to keep Ozawa from bullying the government and its prime minister. Hatoyama may have won his first skirmish with Ozawa, but it is unlikely to be the last. (Indeed, part of me wonders whether the whole thing was staged in an effort to have Hatoyama get his way over Ozawa on some issue to show that Hatoyama is in fact in charge.) It will take the collective leadership of the cabinet to push back against Ozawa and prop up Hatoyama, a task of which Sengoku, among other prospective cabinet members, are acutely aware.

And what of Ozawa? Despite the Fujii "incident," there is still little evidence to suggest that Ozawa will be anything but respectful of the cabinet's authority. Yomiuri continues to warn of the danger of the "140-person" Ozawa group, although it buries an important caveat in its long article on the potential power of Ozawa: unlike LDP factions, DPJ members often belong to more than one group. The article also notes that Ozawa has already turned his attention to next summer's upper house election, leading me to wonder just how much energy Ozawa will have to spend on meddling in the policymaking process. Thus far there is still little evidence that Ozawa plans to use his veto power to do anything but keep the DPJ in line.

With the Hatoyama government's birth a day away, it bears asking two questions. First, what are the greatest weaknesses facing the Hatoyama government? Second, what strengths will work in the government's favor?

Weaknesses: Arguably there are three major weaknesses that could undermine the Hatoyama government and shorten its lifespan.

Hatoyama Yukio: I have been critical of Hatoyama in the past, and little has changed to make me any more impressed with his ability to lead the government.

In particular, I worry about his dealings with the press. The most recent example is a slip of the tongue in a press conference Monday in which he referred to "Ozawa Daihyo [party president, Hatoyama's title and Ozawa's former title" before correcting himself and saying "Ozawa Daiko [acting president, Ozawa's current title]." It is a minor gaffe that could be the result of fatigue, the similarity between the two words, and the fact that Hatoyama spent years saying "Ozawa Daihyo" when he was secretary-general before succeeding Ozawa as party president. But the point is that Hatoyama tends to be loquacious, which during the campaign prompted some in the DPJ to suggest that Hatoyama was being kept from the press to prevent him from saying too much and having to backtrack. The party is considering ending burasagari press conferences entirely, although it is unclear what will replace them. Will the Hatoyama government ultimately act like the Bush administration, keeping its head from appearing before the media in anything but the most controlled settings? (Bush was of course notorious for avoiding press conferences.)

The DPJ will not be able to hide Hatoyama from scrutiny — there is, after all, the unfinished matter of his campaign finance records — and if Hatoyama appears to not be in control of his own government, the press will naturally lambaste the prime minister for lacking the necessary centripetal power. Hatoyama may be first among equals, but he still has to be first. How will he keep himself from being overshadowed by his own cabinet? And if Hatoyama is regularly before the public, how can the DPJ prevent him from making damaging gaffes will still adhering to its commitment to transparent government?

Ozawa Ichiro: There is little to say here beyond what I have already written about Ozawa's role as secretary-general. The DPJ is taking a risk by concentrating such extensive powers in Ozawa's hands. The possibility exists that he could abuse it, forcing the government to negotiate its policies behind closed doors with Ozawa to secure his and the party's approval for every piece of legislation.

The media: Perhaps I should list the media as the greatest threat to the Hatoyama government. The Japanese media are politically powerful, and trusted by the public. The media can amplify small gaffes and mistakes, spinning them into a narrative that will undermine public confidence in the government. We've seen it happen with enough LDP governments in recent years to know how this process works. Public opinion polls conducted by media organizations are taken seriously by political leaders. And all of that is before taking into account the conservative media organizations who have made it their goal to undermine the DPJ government from even before it takes office.

The danger is of a vicious cycle. Imagine that a gaffe by Hatoyama results in a wave of negative media coverage — not just in the conservative press — that results in a sharp drop in public opinion polls. (Feel free to substitute a scandal implicating Hatoyama or Ozawa for a gaffe, or leaks from bureaucrats about the incompetence or malfeasance of some DPJ sub-cabinet member.) The drop in public opinion polls leads to panic within the cabinet and the DPJ. Maybe Ozawa decides to take a more active role in policymaking. Newspapers run articles noting that anonymous cabinet members are concerned about Hatoyama's leadership or Ozawa's influence. Perhaps some suggest a reshuffle. The media then repeats rumors of a reshuffle ad nauseaum, leaping on every hint. Faced with growing calls for a reshuffle — naturally he will be questioned by reporters in press conferences about his plans for a reshuffle — Hatoyama might waver, resulting in editorials about the prime minister's indecisiveness, which then becomes a leading theme on the wideshows. And so on until he is driven to resign. This is just one example, but the process is certainly familiar enough.

The government's survival will depend on breaking this cycle, whether by appointing an official to serve as a dedicated press secretary in place of the chief cabinet secretary and manage a government information office that will control how the cabinet communicates with the public or dissolving the press club system to break the power of the major media organizations. Perhaps both will be required. Whatever the solution, unless the DPJ changes how it communicates with the public via an at least partially unfriendly press, the Hatoyama government will be at its mercy. And for various reasons, both Hatoyama and Ozawa heighten the risks posed by the media.

: But the Hatoyama government is not doomed to fail, but at least not immediately. (All governments fail sooner or later.) It has several strengths working in its favor.

Policymaking: The DPJ takes power with clear ideas for how the government should formulate policy. It has studied how the Hosokawa government failed to develop a coherent policymaking process in 1993-1994, the pathologies of LDP rule, and strengths of the Westminster system and developed its own plans accordingly. Given that the DPJ's transition plans date to as early as 2003, the party has been thinking about how it would govern for most of its existence. In senior leaders have written at some length about the failings of the LDP system and offered detailed proposals for how to build a new policymaking process. Indeed, DPJ leaders have probably thought more about how to change policymaking than any other area of reform. In the weeks leading up to the birth of the new government, the DPJ has indicated that it will put these ideas into practice.

I have already written about the DPJ's emerging policymaking system, so I will only summarize it here: the goal is to create streamlined, top-down cabinet government that shifts the balance of power in policymaking in the cabinet's favor at the expense of the bureaucracy and the ruling parties. The cabinet will lead in budgeting through the national strategy bureau; cabinet committees composed of small numbers of ministers will take the lead in crafting policies for specific areas, while a DPJ-SDPJ-PNP committee within the cabinet will review the government's policies as a whole so to include the coalition partners in policymaking; Hatoyama's senior-most cabinet ministers have considerable prestige of their own and will constitute an inner cabinet, a steering committee that helps the prime minister override opposition from within the cabinet.

But this new policymaking system is only a means to an end: if the policymaking process at all resembles how it looks on paper, the cabinet should have considerable power to make the bureaucracy follow its lead in implementing the DPJ's campaign promises, and, when those plans inevitably conflict with reality, this system should give the cabinet the power to decide how to alter the party's policy plans. It should give the DPJ-led government the ability to try trial-and-error policymaking as it tackles the host of problems facing the government. The new policymaking process does not guarantee success, but a more flexible cabinet stands a better chance of making progress.

Ozawa Ichiro: Appointing Ozawa as secretary-general may be risky, but it is a risk that could pay off. As I've written previously, concentrating veto power in Ozawa's hands gives him power to challenge the government — but it also gives him the power with which to crush opposition from the DPJ's backbenchers. With Ozawa as secretary-general, the policy research council and other party organs will not wield the vetoes that their LDP counterparts wielded under LDP rule.

A public mandate: It is difficult to determine the precise nature of the DPJ's mandate. It's probably a fruitless exercise: it is impossible to say that the public supports this portion of the manifesto but not that portion. What is clear that when it comes to changing how the government functions the DPJ has the public's support. And just as the media can create a vicious cycle, so can the public support for a new policymaking process lead to a virtuous cycle for the DPJ. Using public support against bureaucratic and media opposition to its new administrative plans in order to win the day, the DPJ will then be free to use its newfound policy tools to implement portions of its agenda to prop up its public approval and win elections. Public support fades, but it doesn't have to collapse as it did for the Aso government.

These strengths and weaknesses are far from comprehensive — I said relatively little about how the bureaucracy might oppose the DPJ (it mostly involves using the media) — but I think these lists capture the dynamics that will shape the incoming Hatoyama government.

I may be overoptimistic, but given its focus on getting the policymaking process right, I think the DPJ stands a good chance of making real progress in changing Japan for the better. The Hatoyama government will undoubtedly make mistakes, there are still too many unanswered questions, and the scandals hanging over the heads of Ozawa and Hatoyama could shatter the government's support at any moment — but the DPJ is at least making decisions now that could set it down the path of success.