Adamu is totally pumped about the new DPJ cabinet. You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m underwhelmed by Hatoyama’s sausage fest of a government, full of elected politicians with precious little experience in government, and incorporating no experience from the private sector.
That being said, we agree on the basics. PM Hatoyama should be applauded for appointing Messrs. Fujii and Okada, respectively as Ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs, making sure that adults are heading the most important positions. The appointment of social policy progressive Keiko Chiba as Minister of Justice is interesting and probably a positive move. I look forward to seeing how she fares in promoting her liberal policies noted in Adamu’s post, which would probably be for the better of the country, although realistically, I have low expectations on her accomplishing anything. Kamei Shizuka is just awful in the position of the Financial Services Agency, and we can only hope that he has some sort of Makiko Tanaka-esque failure.
But then let’s get to what we disagree on. Kan Naoto has fortunately been placed in a senior position where is only role is waffling about policy. The DPJ and Kan have tried to polish his reputation by endlessly unearthing the fact that he on breaking open the AIDS blood transfusion scandal. But a more objective view would note that he was at the helm of the Ministry of Welfare and Labor when the pension fiasco began, he tried to target LDP politicians for not paying into the national pension program with Gingrich-esque hubris when he himself wasn’t paying into the pension program himself.
Seiji Maehara, a hawkish DPJ faction leader who in some ways is philosophically closer to the LDP reform wing, has been appointed to lead the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (and Tourism!) and has started out be reasserting the DPJ’s promise to cancel all dam projects, including the Yamba Dam project that has already gone through more than 300 billion yen of its 400 billion budget. The DPJ’s rejection of new projects is understandable; it’s refusal to approval the completion of projects that are done is just barmy — especially as the governors of Tokyo and Gunma, which have paid for part of the budget, are preparing litigation against the government to get back the money invested from their prefectural budgets, which they seem very likely to win.
Then there’s pension policy wonk Akira “Mister Nenkin” Nagatsuma (actually his real nickname) appointed as Minister of Health and Welfare. He was expected to be a vice minister for just pensions and yet has been appointed to run the whole ministry. The scene yesterday at his appointment was fascinating — outgoing LDP Minister Yoichiro Masuzoe gave his farewell address and was greeted by applause by the bureaucrats. Nagatsuma’s entrance was met with stony silence and shallow bows, which he answered by saying in his address that he was going to “purge the ministry of grime and pus.”
Nagatsuma’s post will probably be the ongoing test ground for the DPJ’s anti-bureaucrat stance: how can a minister who has spent the past years eviscerating the bureaucrats now effectively manage them? At least Tommy Carcetti understood the importance of co-opting people inside the institutions he had to change. The DPJ is going to need the help of the bureaucrats to effect the reforms they want to carry out.
The rest of the cabinet is hard to gauge because few have previous experience or much of a public reputation. The one other startling fact is the lack of private sector expertise. The Constitution of Japan only requires that a simply majority of the cabinet ministers be an elected member of either the upper or lower house. Koizumi was especially noticeable for bringing in private sector know-how to the cabinet. That is noticeably absent in the “mock-Westminster system” that the DPJ is advocating, for indiscernible reasons.
Hatoyama enters office with 75% approval ratings, numbers that are matched only by Koizumi in 2001. I would wager that they are at around 30% a year from now.