Thursday, September 17, 2009

Preliminary Thoughts on the Hatoyama Administration

My life has been taking/may be about to take some dramatic turns, so I don’t have enough time to generate meaningful stuff for this blog right now. So for the time being, much of what you see here will be material produced for other purposes. Such as following, which is my end of a Q&A as the response to an email that I received last night soliciting my comments regarding the Hatoyama Cabinet, typos corrected:
1. Very solid Cabinet, the strongest across the board that I've seen in a long time, if ever. Remember, Hatoyama, Kan, Okada, and Maehara are in a sense a throwback to the LDP faction leaders of the 50s and 60s, men who built, not inherited, their power bases from scratch. And old-school Kamei and SDP Fukushima are just as powerful personalities, if not more so. I'm not aware of any weak spots, though Toshimi Kitazawa came as a total surprise to me, with one year as the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the House of Councilors as his only significant exposure to the field. I did go through a few Committee records, where he came across as calm and collected, competent. I was also mildly surprised at not seeing Yoshihiko Noda, the other center-right leader, in the Cabinet*. But otherwise, it's a very Ozawa-Not Cabinet.

2. I don't know enough about the appointees to rank them. I'll give you the following instead.

Nagatsuma and Maehara will generate the most important headlines because they will be going after big game: the healthcare and pension systems, and public works. On the MHLW portfolio, Nagatsuma must remember that it's more than going after the missing pension accounts and the people responsible for that. He must show that he is more than a crusader, that he has the policy chops and leadership skills to bring the two systems in line with our future needs and fiscal constraints. Maehara's job is to slash public spending--a difficult task that is sure to alienate local powers. But he has to do it, if only to go some ways to finance all the spending promises and tax cuts that the DPJ has promised. I see two potential trouble spots: a restless Naoto Kan clashing with the Ministry Ministers, and a turf battle between Haraguchi—by all accounts one of those articulate, new-school policy wonks—and Kamei over the Post Office. Both the DPJ and PNP oppose the Koizumi privatization, but beyond that, I'm sure people like Haraguchi have a rather different view of where to go from that. Also, Kamei's heterodox views regarding financial services, his other portfolio, has a chance of bringing him into conflict with other Cabinet Ministers and the BOJ. I think Kamei is the joker in the pack, particularly since he has less to lose than the other Ministers. Fukushima has a safety portfolio, I think.

3. None of the people that I have an opinion on is "weak." That will be the weakness if Hatoyama is unable to keep everyone on message. He's probably as good as anyone else in the DPJ for that role.

4. It's Hatoyama's Cabinet, and Ozawa's party. Am I the only one that thinks it looks a lot like the Nakasone-Tanaka LDP of the 80s? That didn't turn out too badly, did it? Personally, I don't think Ozawa will meddle on the policy side. I think he has his dream job, another crack at sticking the knife into the LDP heart without the distasteful job of being accountable to the media.

That's it. Back to work. And preparing a late dinner.

Jun Okumura
Perhaps I should have also referred to Fujii in 3. That may have been my contrarian streak kicking in. Let me add that I’m pretty impressed with the way the Hatoyama administration is handling the administrative appointments as well. The message seems to be: If you’re okay with us, we’re okay with you. He trusts (but will verify) that the bureaucracy will follow where his administration leads—which is something I’ve been predicting for a while. He looked klutzy and indecisive throughout the lead-up to the election, but I’m impressed by the javascript:void(0)post-election process. For my sake—as far as I see it, I’m stuck with Japan—I hope the rest of his regime goes at least half as well. Otherwise, there are plenty of floater voters like me, if you catch my drift.

Sorry about your comments. I’ll get back to them later. Honest. I really, really feel bad about not responding, since dialogue is the point of it all.

* Noda is reportedly being taken care of with the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary’s job on the HOR side, not exactly a political embarrassment, especially for a policy wonk like him.

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