Japan: Prime Minister Noda picks a balancing act Cabinet

Japan: Prime Minister Noda picks a balancing act Cabinet

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yoshihiko Noda is the new leader of Japan but will his leadership reap rewards and restore some order to the chaotic nature of Japanese politics, or will it be another poison chalice whereby internal and external forces denounce the new leader?

At the moment everything is pure speculation but even the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) must understand that only internal unity will protect this political movement when the next major election takes place.  If internal bickering breaks out within the DPJ once more, then the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will be waiting in the wings along with other minor political parties. 

Therefore, PM Yoshihiko Noda faces real domestic and international issues which would tax any political leader.  The last thing he needs is to be distracted by internal political opponents and for other political parties to put unwanted pressure on him.

With this in mind, the new leader of Japan picked a balancing act Cabinet but gave important posts to loyalists in order to develop some safety mechanisms.  In all fairness, he was put in a difficult position when forming the new Cabinet because of recent political shenanigans within the DPJ.

Jun Azumi, a key ally of PM Yoshihiko Noda, was selected to be the new finance minister and this position is very powerful and essential.  Therefore, Jun Azumi will focus on reconstruction in areas hit by the devastating earthquake and tsunami, and he will be in charge of helping the economy to recover.  However, given the huge public debt of Japan and with the prime minister being a fiscal conservative, then Jun Azumi will need to work within tight budget margins.

Osamu Fujimura was appointed the new chief Cabinet secretary and like Jun Azumi his bond with PM Yoshihiko Noda is tight.  Immediately, Osamu Fujimura stated that the “right people in the right places” were selected in order to create a strong Cabinet which will enable a “united” government to take place.

The national policy minister was given to Motohisa Furukawa and he also will be responsible for the state minister for economic and fiscal policy. Motohisa Furukawa is only 45 and Jun Azumi is relatively young at 49 by Japanese standards and both have important roles to play.

Jun Azumi commented that “We will do everything to cut unnecessary spending to secure funds for reconstruction, but we will probably need to ask the public to shoulder some of the burden as we can’t rely on future generations.”

This comment is in line with the thinking of the prime minister and while some questions have been raised about his selection, it is a sound political move for two reasons. Firstly the new leader will have a loyalist and someone whom will focus on the policies of the new prime minister. Secondly, Jun Azumi does have good relations with opposition members and this will help the new Cabinet selected by Yoshihiko Noda.

Continuity for handling the Fukushima nuclear crisis was maintained, therefore, Goshi Hosono retained his position.  Tatsuo Hirano will also continue to be the reconstruction minster. Therefore, by maintaining their respective positions, it is a sign of continuity and the need to win-over a skeptical electorate.

PM Yoshihiko Noda also did a balancing act because he also selected Kenji Yamaoka and Yasuo Ichikawa. Both politicians are firmly in the camp of DPJ bigwig, Ichiro Ozawa, and it is hoped that this balancing act will be rewarded.  After all, Ichiro Ozawa made it clear that he had no confidence in Naoto Kan and clearly the new prime minister must keep an eye on party factionalism.

Ichiro Ozawa was reported to be happy about the new Cabinet and was quoted to have stated that“This is so good” because he “paid attention to everyone.”

However, some voices of concern were also raised because some DPJ members worry that by focusing on a political balancing act that this will prevent PM Yoshihiko Noda from implementing reforms. Therefore, some DPJ members are worried that this will hinder government policy objectives and lead to confusion.

Taxation and free trade issues, and a host of other important areas, clearly have deep divisions within the DPJ. In this sense, the new prime minister is constrained by political realism and if he neglected other thought patterns within the DPJ then factionalism and petty political infighting will just break-out once more.

Given the current nature of the DPJ then the Cabinet looks well balanced and provides a firm basis to at least put the DPJ house back in order. No Cabinet selected could please all DPJ members but PM Yoshihiko Noda did pick a Cabinet which should give him some internal breathing space.  Therefore, while part of the Cabinet set-up is a balancing act in certain quarters, it is a well-balanced balancing act and it is a good start to the reign of the new leader of Japan.

With regards to this being a poison chalice for the new leader of Japan then past history would indicate this.  However, occasional leaders have stamped down some clear policy objectives and it is up to the new prime minister to give it his best shot. The Cabinet he selected does give him a chance to keep the poison chalice at bay within the DPJ but the opposition is a different matter and coverage by the mass media is also a real cause of concern.

Therefore, only time will tell but at least he can start on the right foot and clearly PM Yoshihiko Noda is thinking about the future.  This in itself is promising but delivering given all the internal issues, then this is a different matter and it is hoped that the new leader didn’t select a poison chalice.




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