Hatoyama delivers an impressive cabinet

The votes are being counted in the House of Representatives, after which the House of Councillors will vote for the new prime minister. Hatoyama Yukio’s election as the next prime minister is assured.

On the eve of his election by the Diet, Hatoyama decided the presumptive lineup of his cabinet — but he did not share it with the press Tuesday, warning that if appointments “are leaked, they will be changed.” (Hatoyama actually deserves credit for his handling of the press regarding cabinet appointments during the past two weeks: he said he would hold off on making announcements, and he has stuck to it, offering little to the press when questioned. Undoubtedly he has made few friends among the media as a result.)

But the list itself, now public, is impressive. In addition to already-known appointments of Kan Naoto (deputy prime minister and head of the national strategy bureau), Okada Katsuya (foreign minister), Fujii Hirohisa (finance minister), and Hirano Hirofumi (chief cabinet secretary), the Hatoyama cabinet includes as host of senior DPJ politicians balanced among the party’s different groups. The balance led Yomiuri to refer to it as a “safe driving” cabinet, as if safe driving is a bad thing after Aso Taro’s reckless driving (how else to refer to his appointment of Nakagawa Shoichi as finance minister during a severe global financial crisis, after all?). Appointing ministers from across the party is a good way of ensuring that there will be lively debates in the cabinet and that there will be few senior politicians left in the party to cause trouble for Ozawa Ichiro and the cabinet. (Noda Yoshihiko, an “anti-mainstream” leader, was denied a cabinet post and has reportedly complained about it, but he has relatively little company.)

In addition to the aforementioned names, the cabinet will tentatively include the following:

Haraguchi Kazuhiro, a five-term member from Saga prefecture, will serve as minister of internal affairs and communications. Haraguchi is exceptional in that he actually held the same portfolio in the DPJ’s shadow cabinet. In fact, he has held the postal reform portfolio in previous shadow cabinets, suggesting not inconsiderable familiarity with his brief. At fifty years old, he will be the third youngest member of the cabinet.

The justice minister will be Chiba Keiko, an upper-house member from Kanagawa who is unusual in that she is one of a tiny number of DPJ members who did not leave the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDPJ) until well after the party’s ill-fated coalition with the LDP. Chiba is liberal on history and social issues, and has served as the shadow justice minister and the shadow minister for gender equality and human rights under various party leaders (including Maehara).

Kawabata Tatsuo, one of the party’s vice presidents and an eight-term Diet member (first elected from the Democratic Socialist Party), will take the lengthy title of minister of education, culture, sports, science, and technology. Befitting his long service, Kawabata has held a number of party leadership positions, including chairman of the party’s board of governors.

In a somewhat surprising move, Nagatsuma Akira, “Mister Nenkin,” scourge of the Social Insurance Agency, will be Masuzoe Yoichi’s successor as minister of health, labor, and welfare. At forty-nine he will be the second-youngest cabinet member. I think giving Nagatsuma a proper ministry is a brilliant stroke, ensuring that a problematic ministry will get an energetic minister strongly committed to the party’s administrative reform program (and reforming social security) at its head, and giving Nagatsuma experience that will raise his national profile further. His popularity will no doubt be a boost for the cabinet.

The ministry of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries — perhaps the most problematic ministry — will go to Akamatsu Hirotaka, a seven-term Diet member who began his career in the Socialist Party and has been in the DPJ since its first iteration. He will have his work cut out for him.

Naoshima Masayuki and Maehara Seiji (at forty-seven the youngest cabinet member) received the economy, trade, and industry, and land, infrastructure, transport, and tourism portfolios respectively. Maehara will also hold portfolios for disaster relief, and Okinawan and Northern Territories affairs. (Perhaps the latter briefs are a way to give Maehara a voice in foreign policy discussions through the back door? Presumably any cabinet committee discussion of either issue will include Maehara.)

The environment ministry goes to Ozawa Sakihito, along with Hirano Hirofumi a close ally of Hatoyama’s. A member of Sakigake and an original member of the DPJ, Ozawa’s appointment may reflect the prime minister’s interest in emissions controls.

After worries that the defense ministry would go to the PNP’s Kamei Shizuka, the post will go to Kitazawa Toshimi, along with Maehara and Kawabata a party vice president. Kitazawa is also one of four upper house members in the cabinet. Coming from Nagano, it is not surprising that Kitazawa has long been close to former Prime Minister Hata Tsutomu, once Ozawa’s co-conspirator in splitting from the LDP in 1993 and one of the participants in the creation of the new DPJ in 1998. He recently served as chair of the upper house foreign and defense policy committee.

Nakai Hitoshi, who first joined the DPJ in 2003 in the merger with the Liberal Party, will serve as head of the Public Safety Commission, and Ozawa critic Sengoku Yoshito will head the new Administrative Renovation council.

Also joining the cabinet will be SDPJ head Fukushima Mizuho, whose portfolio will include consumer affairs and the aging society problem, and PNP head Kamei Shizuka, whose portfolio will include the Financial Services Agency (FSA) and the postal issue. Kamei is pleased to have received this post, describing the appointment as “perfect.” It is not clear, however, what role Kamei will play in dealing with Japan Post, as the ministry of internal affairs will continue to take the lead in managing postal affairs. The portfolio may simply assure Kamei a seat at the table without any attendant administrative responsibilities. Mainichi reports some unease from investors regarding Kamei’s position as head of the FSA due to his opposition to “structural reform,” although Kamei will likely have little independence regarding finance and investment. (And, incidentally, it was Kamei who reassured the Obama administration that Nakagawa Masaharu’s remarks about Japan’s buying only Samurai bonds under the DPJ was not an official statement.)

Ikeda Nobuo sees Kamei’s participation in the cabinet as an ill omen for the Hatoyama government, citing shady dealings of Kamei’s from the 1980s. I cannot speak to these rumors, but Ikeda makes one claim regarding Kamei’s participation in the cabinet that I disagree with: Ikeda argues that Hatoyama will have a difficult time controlling Kamei and suggests that he could become a “bomb that destroys Japan’s economy.” I think that both Kamei and Fukushima will end up being marginal figures in the new government. Neither has an important portfolio, and with the DPJ aiming to move away from unanimous decision making in the cabinet, they will have little power to stop cabinet decisions. Their parties obviously have the ability to stop legislation in the upper house, but if they are included in the decision-making process from the beginning it should simplify management of the upper house. As MTC argues, the DPJ may need the two small parties beyond July 2010, and it makes good sense to include both leaders in the cabinet to streamline the policymaking process. Undoubtedly Kamei and Fukushima are simply happy to be in the cabinet. The DPJ has given up very little to secure their participation. I think worries about the two are, for now, overblown.

I think that Hatoyama did an extraordinary job picking his cabinet, for which he deserves credit. He has shown that he has no problem delegating authority to politicians who may have more policy expertise than him or independent standing within the DPJ. Few politicians in the cabinet are dependent on Hatoyama for his patronage. He will be surrounded by ministers who will have no problem disagreeing with the prime minister. But he also chosen talented ministers who by and large have been in the DPJ for most if not all of its existence, are committed to its policy programs (especially administrative reform), and are independent from Ozawa Ichiro. As I told Yuka Hayashi of the Wall Street Journal, Hatoyama as prime minister will be “more of a committee chairman than a president.” He will have to manage debates among his ministers, intervening when appropriate, closing debates, and setting the policy agenda. But he will not be in a position to dictate policies to his cabinet and demand that the ministers follow along.

When it comes to cabinet personnel, Hatoyama has put his government in a position to succeed.

7 thoughts on “Hatoyama delivers an impressive cabinet

  1. Thank you for comments. I agree with your assessment except for Kamei. His friendship with gangsters is not a rumor but adopted as evidences in courts.And his \”dark power\” is so strong that he destroyed Hosokawa cabinet by exposing Hosokawa's scandal with Sagawa. He won't be a minor player.


  2. Great commentary on this important issue. I am optimistic. My hope is Kan-san can break the hold of the bureaucrats with the national strategy bureau. That could really pave the way for serious change.


  3. Hi Tobias, How are you? I think investors are reacting a little differently than voters to Kamei – upon his nomination as FSA head, TSE's Saito was quick to offer pre-emptive comments discouraging excessive regulation. Also, even if only symbolic, the Kamei appointment sends quite a powerful anti-privatisation message, which is probably a mistake on the fiscal policy front. Also, the FSA has been a huge implementor of new regulation in recent years, especially FIEL in 2007 which arguably played a large hand in crushing investment trust demand then. So despite the low direct impact on national policy, it might have an indirect impact on growth via asset markets. All the best! Naomi


  4. Anonymous

    thanks for the commentary.i would add that with a number of cabinet members with a background in labour union politics, minority rights issues etc. – some having come from the sdpj – this cabinet's \”leftish\” potential seems bigger than expected.namely kawabata, sengoku, fukushima, akamatsu, chiba


  5. My hope is Kamei will simply collapse under the weight of his own absurdity. Then some replacement will fill in and kill time until a sweet DPJ victory in July gives them reason to smite PNP out of the government


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