Will Hatoyama be first among equals?

After appointing Ozawa Ichiro as the DPJ’s secretary-general and Hirano Hirofumi as chief cabinet secretary, Hatoyama Yukio has announced his intended choices for other senior posts, none of which comes as a surprise.

Okada Katsuya, a former party leader and runner-up to Hatoyama in the May party leadership election, is the incoming prime minister’s pick for the foreign ministry — although the pick has not been completely finalized. Kan Naoto, another DPJ founder and along with Ozawa and Hatoyama a member of the troika that ran the party under Ozawa, is Hatoyama’s choice to head the national strategy office. Fujii Hirohisa, a former finance minister who I pegged as the likeliest and best choice to return to the finance ministry, is being finalized as the appointee.

It is hard to disagree with these assignments. Okada, whose foreign policy views are more or less consistent with the DPJ’s foreign policy consensus, is nevertheless a good pick, in that Okada should be able to speak to Washington in ways that ease whatever concerns the US has about a DPJ government’s approach to the alliance. Earlier this year Okada articulated a vision for an alliance less centered on security policy, a message consistent with the party’s manifesto and Hatoyama’s own desires — the difference being that I think Okada has been able to articulate that message better than other DPJ politicians. Okada is a reassuring pick for the foreign ministry. He should be acceptable to the party’s right wing, in that Okada is more likely to give their ideas a hearing, but he should be acceptable to the rest of the party as well, in that his foreign policy vision is markedly less hawkish than the right wing (and that he is independent from Ozawa).

Meanwhile, appointing Kan to head up the new national strategy office could be inspired decision, not only because Kan, a former health minister who became famous for taking the ministry’s bureaucrats over a tainted blood scandal, has increasingly emerged as the party’s most eloquent spokesman regarding administrative reform (see this post) but because Kan could keep the NSO’s power in check. Hatoyama said that in order to raise the stature of the NSO he wanted to make its head an important cabinet member — appointing Kan certainly qualifies, but Kan has expressed a belief in the importance of cabinet government, government by appointed ministers, not by a cell of sub-ministerial officials like the NSO. Under Kan’s leadership the NSO could become less a superministry responsible for coordinating the activities of ministers and more an advisory body to assist cabinet ministers as they attempt to wrest power from ministry officials. The difference is important: the former model would introduce a new, less accountable veto player into the cabinet, while the latter would support the goal of strengthening the cabinet’s collective leadership of the government, while serving the goals articulated by sitting ministers. The point is that the NSO, still a wholly unknown quantity, will be strongly influenced by its first head, and given Kan’s well-stated views on cabinet government, his appointment is an encouraging sign that the office will not become a new, unaccountable power center within the government.

Finally, there is little to add to what I have previously written about the value of Fujii as finance minister. Fujii is pragmatic but in complete agreement with the party’s administrative reform goals; he is a former finance ministry official who also served as finance minister in the first non-LDP government since 1955; he is close to Ozawa, but given his age and experience would not be Ozawa’s puppet at the finance ministry. He will no doubt be at the center of the Hatoyama government, as various party leaders have suggested in recent weeks.

In light of these pending appointments, Hatoyama’s appointment of Hirano as chief cabinet secretary makes a certain amount of sense. MTC is disappointed in the Hirano pick, but given that Hatoyama’s cabinet will clearly be packed with officials independent of Hatoyama, Hirano will be the one Hatoyama confidante in senior cabinet position, one with a reputation as a troubleshooter and a political crisis manager. Hirano will undoubtedly be overshadowed by Okada, Kan, and Fujii, who have standing of their own in the DPJ and considerable policy expertise, meaning that he will undoubtedly play a smaller policy role — but that his role as, in MTC’s words, “traffic cop for the Cabinet” he will be a key adviser for the incoming prime minister as he tries to command a cabinet full of heavyweights.

That is the picture that emerges from these appointments. Hatoyama will be the prime minister, the face of the government, the man who attends the summits, but in practice the Hatoyama government may be characterized by collective leadership, with cabinet ministers being relatively strong and policy decisions resulting more from deliberation among the cabinet’s ministers than from decisions handed down by the prime minister. As prime minister Hatoyama may have the final say, but it seems unlikely that he will exercise presidential-style leadership — rather he will be first among equals in a powerful cabinet.

3 thoughts on “Will Hatoyama be first among equals?

  1. John Sarazen

    If the first DPJ prime minister is not powerful then how will future DPJ leaders control the party? This system of \”first among equals\” may work for a Hatoyama government, but it creates a worrying framework for future governments where the prime minister will be obliged to fill cabinet posts with the most well known Diet members instead of the most competent ones.If Hatoyama yields too much power to these heavyweights in his cabinet all future cabinet members will expect the same level of independence and future DPJ prime ministers may never be able to take power back.


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