Goshi Hosono has been a cabinet minister since June 27, 2011 in a variety of roles. He is currently head of the Ministry of Environment and also holds down the nuclear administration and nuclear disaster prevention* portfolios. Jun Azumi joined the Noda cabinet at its inauguration on September 2, 2011 as the Minister of Finance. Both have managed to avoid generating front-page headlines, which, in the high-stakes political minefields of nuclear power for the former and the economy and government finance on the other, is about the best that players can hope for. They have acquitted themselves well (although “well” is relative, and a subjective word to boot). So, what happens? On October 1, they will be reassigned to the DPJ political team in anticipation of a lower general election and replaced by other DPJ notables, starting with Seiji Maehara and possibly including one or two of his challengers at the latest leadership election.
One of the key promises that the DPJ made in coming to power in 2009 was that it would take policymaking back from the bureaucracy, and Prime Minister Hatoyama anointed a group of mostly intelligent and well-meaning cabinet ministers who were allowed to assemble their own political teams. But Hatoyama got sidetracked by a political nonstarter of an issue in Futenma and Naoto Kan also failed miserably if less spectacularly, and we are now into what could be the third strike in the DPJ version of the post-Koizumi one year-and out administrations. The effect of all this on day-to-day governance as well as long-term policy must have been enormous. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa was the only cabinet member to survive deep into a second year with his/her portfolio intact. (Kan went through a handful of portfolios in his first year before he succeeded Hatoyama as prime minister, but all the others suffered the same fate or worse than the cabinet that they swerved in.) After the first year, the ministers no longer had control over their respective political teams.
These men (mostly) and women are essentially amateurs who are suddenly tasked with shaking up operations with thousands of employees and multibillion/trillion budgets and keeping them running more or less normally at the same time. Once the original game plan went out the window with the Hatayama cabinet, the newbies were playing it by ear. And when those newbies are pushed out or at best shuffled around and recycled at warp speed, mission accomplished could be just staying abreast of the briefings and making sure that you don’t blow yourself up in press conferences.
Maybe Noda has no choice, what with the election looming, but three years of revolving-door governance exposes the DPJ to a highly effective line of attack from the LDP—or would if the other four fingers wouldn’t be pointing to the LDP itself if it did.