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.


wataru said...

Last sentence: But NOW it will...
Earlier, "little surprised" --> little surprise

Bryce said...

"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."

Yes, I wondered about that. What is the point of giving someone a portfolio labeled "postal issues" and excluding him from any authority on the major "postal issue" of the day, namely privatization. You have to think that the DPJ wanted to pacify their coalition partner by allowing its leader to take credit for the backtracking that is going to occur in this area, yet not actually give him the power to go ballistic on actual policy.

Also, for the benefit of those of us who do not have the July issue of Chuo Koron sitting around our offices (I bought Bungei Shunju that month, damn it) could somebody please explain to me what an NSO does? Westminster systems already have national strategy offices. They meet periodically to discuss policy and make sure everybody is on the same page. They are called "Cabinets" and they are headed by a minister whose job it is to keep tabs on the big picture. Is the creation of an NSO a way to fulfill a perception that party's policy research council must be replaced with something if its roles are to be subsumed by government? Was it created to give Kan Naoto something to do in his spare time when he isn't out saving the world? The whole thing seems about as superfluous as a Chief Cabinet Secretary.

Anonymous said...

The heart of any nation-state is its banking system. The national post privatization issue is the number one issue of the day. Kamei's appointment will be the seed that plants the demise of the DPJ. We can only hope a reformed LDP will emerge.

By the way, your relentless pursuing of politics over economics causes you to miss important stuff like this. Imagine the politics of designing a building. What would be more useful, knowing some engineering or knowing the politics of each invovled party.

You need to step back and look deeper.

Tobias Harris said...


I would be more interested in your advice if it weren't so cryptic.

"Pursuing of politics over economics?" You've just told me a political story, about how Kamei will destroy the LDP and how a reformed LDP is "our" only hope.

Anonymous said...

NSO is intended to replace the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy as an office under the prime minister's direct control to compile the budget and establish economic and fiscal priorities.

I'm confused how that is supposed to be superfluous to either "big picture" Cabinet policy making or overlaps a sprawling party-bureaucratic "think tank" institution that was the old PRC.

Tobias Harris said...


For all that's been said about the NSO, it's still hard to say precisely what role it will play in the cabinet. For example, what we do know is that it will play a leading role in budgeting. Okay, but how will it interact with the cabinet's budget committee? Will it be a technical operation, providing policy assistance to cabinet committees? Will it take the lead in drafting policies? Much will depend on Kan, and, I suppose, Furukawa.

My sense is that it will be a bigger, more central organization than the CEFP, but we'll have to wait and see.