The DPJ continues to reveal its plans for government

While the DPJ may have a public relations problem, the party has continued to show during the days leading up to the general election that it is focused on ensuring a smooth transition to power in the likely event that it wins, while at the same time taking the first steps to reorganizing the policymaking process to privilege the cabinet at the expense of the bureaucracy.

In particular, more details are emerging regarding the national strategy office that is at the center of the DPJ’s plans for empowering the cabinet. The party has confirmed that not only will the director of the office be a member of the cabinet, but that the head of the DPJ’s policy research council will serve concurrently at policy chief and head of the NSO. And Mainichi suggests that the post will be equivalent to a deputy prime minister. The goal, of course, is to forestall the creation of a policymaking process in which ruling party organs wield veto power over the cabinet’s decisions — a central feature of LDP rule. How will a DPJ create the new office as it takes power, seeing as how it has no legal standing, and seeing as how the DPJ wants the NSO to play a leading rule in budgeting? It appears that the DPJ plans to create the office as an informal planning cell coming into existence concurrently with the Hatoyama cabinet, which will then submit legislation officially creating the NSO (and, it seems, dissolving the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, whose functions it will subsume). Jiji’s report also suggests that the office will have thirty members drawn from the Diet, the private sector, and the bureaucracy.

Given the party’s emphasis on increasing the role of the cabinet in budgeting, moving at least some distance in the direction of zero-based budgeting — recently stressed by Okada Katsuya in a campaign appearance in Tokyo — moving quickly on the NSO will be crucial to the early success of a DPJ government. I hope that they’ve already assembled a wish list for the NSO’s thirty members and have put out feelers to those outside the party.

The DPJ has also confirmed that decisions regarding sub-cabinet appointees will be made by cabinet ministers themselves, instead of by party officials. (Recall that distributing sub-cabinet posts is one of the few remaining functions left to the LDP’s factions.) The goal seems to be the creation of policy teams at each ministry, with the minister and sub-ministers working together to impose the cabinet’s will. Incidentally, this policy signals at least two important changes. First, it suggests that the DPJ’s changes to the policymaking process involve more than just strengthening the prime minister. By bolstering the positions of individual ministers, the cabinet as a whole will be stronger. Second, by giving ministers the power to select their political subordinates, it should introduce factors other than age and faction into the distribution of posts. After all, given that the DPJ has young former bureaucrats in its ranks, why should they be prevented from holding sub-cabinet posts due to their lack of seniority? Presumably this freedom to dispense with seniority is one advantage of the relative youth of DPJ candidates.

Another plan being floated by the DPJ is increasing the number of prime minister’s secretaries to six, with one being a Diet member and the remaining five being bureaucrats. The party would prefer more than one political appointee, but due to the Diet law’s limit on the number of Diet members who can serve concurrently in government, Hatoyama will depend on bureaucrats at his side until the law can be revised.

Finally, if the DPJ wins a decisive victory Sunday, its transition team will begin work on Monday.

Far from playing the naïve ingenue, the DPJ is clearly serious about governing and is doing all the right things to ensure a framework will be in place by the time the Diet meets to elect a new prime minister.

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