The Hatoyama system takes shape

The coalition with the SDPJ and the PNP cemented, the DPJ is getting to work filling in the rest of the cabinet.

One question is what posts the SDPJ’s Fukushima Mizuho and PNP’s Kamei Shizuka will fill. The SDPJ has requested either the ministry of health, labor, and welfare or, it seems, the environment portfolio. Despite an earlier report that suggested Kamei would enter the cabinet as a minister without portfolio, it seems that the PNP now wants the ministry of internal affairs and communications, not surprisingly given that the PNP’s issue is reversing postal privatization. It is unlikely that the DPJ will give the post to Kamei.

Hatoyama Yukio has set 15 September, the day before the Diet will elect the new prime minister, as the target for finalizing cabinet appointments. Nothing, it seems, will be decided before then.

But the names of likely cabinet ministers are emerging. In addition to Fukushima and Kamei — and before them Okada Katsuya, Hirano Hirofumi, Fujii Hirohisa, and Kan Naoto — DPJ members under consideration are Nagatsuma Akira (“Mr. Nenkin“), Maehara Seiji, Sengoku Yoshito, and Naoshima Masayuki. Maehara, despite (or because of) his reputation as a hawkish defense specialist, is rumored to be under consideration for the ministry of land, infrastructure, transport, and tourism. Sengoku is being considered for the justice and health, labor, and welfare, while Naoshima, currently the DPJ’s policy affairs research council chairman, may end up as the METI minister.

That leaves at least seven more names to be included in the new cabinet, which could be more depending on how many “special mission” posts the Hatoyama cabinet decides to create.

What seems clear, however, is that with Maehara and Sengoku likely to receive important posts in the cabinet, it will be difficult to speak of the Hatoyama cabinet as an “Ohato” cabinet. It is possible that Ozawa’s favorites could fill out the remainder of the cabinet, but with Sengoku and Maehara — Sengoku was close to running against Ozawa last year, and both were against Ozawa’s continuing as party leader as the Nishimatsu scandal unfolded — in the cabinet, the idea that Hatoyama’s cabinet will simply be under Ozawa’s thumb is unlikely.

Indeed, it is possible that the DPJ has solved its Ozawa dilemma. Ozawa will still wield tremendous power, but his power will be more directed at the party’s now numerous backbenchers. He could use those backbenchers against the cabinet, but that assumes that their loyalty to Ozawa is so strong as to lead them to rebel against their party’s leadership in cabinet. I will believe in the existence of an Ozawa faction when I see some evidence for it beyond speculation rooted in Ozawa’s past as a lieutenant of Tanaka Kakuei linked to his work on behalf of DPJ candidates across Japan.

Walter Bagehot provides an appropriate metaphor for thinking about Ozawa’s role in the new government: “A cabinet is a combining committee, — a hyphen which joins, a buckle which fastens, the legislative part of the state to the executive part of the state. In its origin it belongs to the one, in its functions it belongs to the other.” In the case of the Hatoyama government, Ozawa will be the hyphen that joins the DPJ-led cabinet to the DPJ’s parliamentary majority. His voice will carry weight — I have a hard time seeing him stay completely quiet on policy affairs — but his influence on policymaking may be less than feared.

Indeed, in this role Ozawa could be indispensable to moving Japan away from LDP’s cumbersome policymaking process into an era in which politicians in cabinet are capable of making decisions, enacting policies, and leading. Ozawa has long lamented the role that bureaucrats (and the United States) have played in limiting the ability of Japan’s political leaders to direct the country. The question now is whether Ozawa can accept other political leaders’ directing the country. With enough Ozawa skeptics in the cabinet, he may have no choice but to accept their lead.

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