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.

4 comments:

Adamu said...

Kamei is a walking disaster, but I think DPJ is trying to keep him appeased right now. Kamei coming out strong right now seems intended to intimidate and shock people and let them know that he's not afraid to make a scene if they try to cross him. Kamei is an old man who lost all hope of rising to the top but then miraculously got this lucky break (we wouldnt be having this discussion if Watanuki kept his seat). Therefore he and most of the rest of his party have little left to lose.

You give good advice for what the ministers should do about it, but let's see if they have the guts. So far I don't see a lot of fight in Hatoyama -- am I wrong to think he seems to buckle any time someone challenges him on something?

Right on about the press officer proposal. All these debates on whether the administrative vice-ministers should have their own press conferences miss the point.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Hatoyama just wants to 'play it out'...so he has enough ammunition to sack him later if he continues to be pugnacious. Since so early in his term, may be he feels he cannot sack a valued coalition member without plenty of evidence to shut him and others up, when, if, he is sent down.

A 'press officer' is more a US based presidential style, not a UK Prime Minister Preliminary style. Hatoyama is trying to bring back a 'true' Parliament style, a press officer is contrary to this style of govt.

If a member is pushing/issuing policies, they must have the courage to speak about them and defend them. Whatever the message..

Anonymous said...

You said: 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.

You seem quick to downplay this, but the problem might run a lot deeper. Right down the fissure along which the DPJ might split at some future time.

Reported in the Yomiuri:
Furthermore, Kamei is close to DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, leading one DPJ member to speculate that "Mr. Ozawa may have supported Kamei's assignment to the post in order to put pressure on Finance Minister [Hirohisa] Fujii.

Also this:
For a long time, Hatoyama believed Fujii would be at the core of his administration, but Ozawa and his aides repeatedly indicated they would not accept Fujii in such a key position.
Fujii and Ozawa left the LDP together in 1993 and have cooperated on various issues. In the wake of a scandal involving illegal donations from Nishimatsu Construction Co., however, Fujii supported Okada in the DPJ leadership election. This led to a rift between Ozawa and Fujii.
Lawmakers close to Hatoyama complained that Ozawa aides interfered with Fujii's appointment to the Cabinet. However, there were no signs of Ozawa himself openly or directly opposing Fujii's appointment.


http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20090918TDY04303.htm

It's hard to imagine Kamei being so ballsy unless he had some strong backing. After all, he's not even a DPJ member.

Tobias Harris said...

Anonymous,

Until I see more evidence beyond Yomiuri's speculation, I'm inclined to see Kamei's antics as reflective of his insecure position within the cabinet. I disagree with your conclusion that Kamei could only be so ballsy with someone's backing — in fact, I think it's so ballsy precisely because he's so insecure in the cabinet and has nothing to lose. If he were a DPJ member, he would be disciplined because he would have plenty to lose.

This argument suggests that Ozawa deliberately wants the government to fail and is trying to sabotage it. Until I see more evidence I'm not willing to accept this theory.

And Fujii is in the cabinet — and controls the leading ministry. I don't see Kamei as much of a threat to his authority.