Tuesday, September 29, 2009

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.

3 comments:

Orwell said...

Minister Kamei will be a savior for the Japanese political economy and for the rest of the world.
Market Fundamentalism collapsed completely.Your view about Mr Kamei is helplessly slanted. Please try not to repeat the wrongdoings the neocons and other fanatics and cult such as Milton Friedman.

Tobias Harris said...

I'm sorry, that makes no sense.

How will the Japanese economy be saved by freezing up lending any more than it has already been frozen up? That's not "market fundamentalism" — that's common sense.

Between the two of us there may be an ideologue, but it's not me.

Nevertheless, if you can tell me precisely how Kamei will save the Japanese economy and the rest of the world, I'm all ears.

Adam Markus said...

That a 57 year-old with a drinking problem dies in bed is not such a shocker. Why even suggest he did himself in when there was no obvious evidence for that?