Prime Minister-designate Yoshihiko Noda hit the ground running, moving quickly to name the four top executives of the ruling Democratic Party (DPJ), while also working to put together a cabinet.
On the surface, the party appointments seem in line with Noda’s commitment to unify a DPJ deeply divided between pro-Ozawa forces, anti-Ozawa ‘mainstream’ forces, and centrists not allied with either of those camps.
A close look, however, shows that while Noda is cleverly involving in his administration some people associated with DPJ strongman Ichiro Ozawa, he otherwise is carefully proceeding on both the policy and political fronts in a direction that might not sit well with the Ozawa camp.
As secretary-general of the DPJ, for example, Noda has tapped Azuma Koshiishi, a long-time Ozawa associate who heads the DPJ caucus in the Upper House. But at 75, it is doubtful Koshiishi will have the energy and power to steer party financial resources or personnel appointments in Ozawa’s direction. The public ‘face’ of the DPJ is more likely to be new Acting DPJ President Shinji Tarutoko, who has deliberately distanced himself from Ozawa for over a year.
Also likely to eclipse Koshiishi will be Seiji Maehara, whom Noda has appointed chief of the DPJ’s Policy Research Committee (PRC). Maehara, who placed a disappointing third in Monday’s race for the DPJ presidency, is one of the pillars of opposition to Ozawa within the DPJ. Noda has promised that as PRC chief, Maehara will have considerable influence over legislation promoted by the government, and also a huge role in DPJ coordination efforts with opposition parties.
Noda says he is committed to a three-party agreement accepted by the DPJ several weeks ago -- over Ozawa’s protests -- to alter aspects of the party’s 2009 manifesto. Maehara supports that stance. And as chief of the DPJ’s Upper House caucus, where efforts to coordinate with the opposition LDP and Komeito will be particularly important, Koshiishi will have a hard time siding with Ozawa against Noda’s instructions to seek better communication with the opposition.
FORMING A CABINET: Having filled the DPJ’s top executive positions, Noda is now working to form his cabinet. His most critical choice will be for chief cabinet secretary. Does he go ‘big,’ with a political and policy heavyweight like current Secretary General Katsuya Okada? Or does he go ‘small,’ with someone with less gravitas, such as former DPJ Secretary General Tatsuo Kawabata, DPJ Deputy Secretary General Osamu Fujimura, or Koriki Jojima, currently deputy of the DPJ’s PRC. Okada would bring experience to the job and could quickly help stabilize the new administration. But he might overshadow Noda, and raise questions in the public mind about who would actually be running the government. Noda wants and needs Okada, who was critical to Noda’s victory and could wind up instead as finance minister.
On the other hand, none of the ‘small’ candidates would overshadow Noda, and would each bring particular skills. Kawabata served as DPJ secretary general before the party came to power, and informally leads the DPJ Diet members who hail from the old Democratic Socialist Party. He has carefully placed himself within the DPJ between Ozawa and mainstream figures like Okada. Fujimura is a very close Noda associate and played a key role in lining up support for Noda’s election as DPJ president. Jojima played an important role in forging the 3-party agreement to review some DPJ policies, so he is in synch with Noda on that front.
Other key figures to watch:
Michihiko Kano, the current agriculture minister, who lost in the first round of the DPJ presidential race but then steered his supporters to vote for Noda. Kano has been in agreement with Ozawa in opposing a rapid opening of Japan’s agricultural markets through participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership TPP) trade talks. But he was outraged at tactics Ozawa used in the election to try to gather votes for his candidate, Banri Kaieda. Noda will probably reward Kano with continued membership in the Cabinet.
Yukio Edano, currently chief cabinet secretary, won much praise for his calming demeanor during the Fukushima nuclear emergency. But he could wind up sitting on the sidelines for a while, preparing for a future run for prime minister. Edano is very close to the DPJ’s other heavyweight, Acting President Yoshito Sengoku, whose stature has suffered in recent days due to missteps taken in coordinating Seiji Maehara’s campaign to replace the outgoing Naoto Kan.
Akihisa Nagashima, former parliamentary vice minister of defense, is being widely-talked about to run either the foreign or defense ministry.