I already noted Friday that Kamei had used a press conference following a cabinet meeting to warn Haraguchi Kazuhiro, the minister for internal affairs and communciations, to stay off his turf, namely halting the privatization of the postal system. At the same time, Kamei, using his perch as director-general of the Financial Services Agency, has called for a three-year moratorium on the repayment of loans by small-and-medium-sized enterprises, which would naturally be devastating for banks, which, after all, not too long ago were laboring under the burden of bad debt to the point that they eventually required the infusion of public funds. Naturally markets have not taken kindly to Kamei’s remarks. (Sasayama Tatsuo has more on radical financial regulations proposed by the People’s New Party.)
Kamei also attacked Kan Naoto and the national strategy bureau as being intended to undermine the basic policy cabinet committee composed of Kamei, the SDPJ’s Fukushima Mizuho, and Kan as the DPJ representative.
Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa tried to calm worries, noting that while there is a precedence for this action — in 1927, in the midst of Japan’s depression — the situation is not nearly so bad as that. But Kamei reiterated on NHK Sunday that implementing this program is his responsibility (although he said he would be “borrowing” the wisdom of the finance minister).
While Kamei’s remarks are irresponsible, I do not think that they are indicative of anything more than Kamei’s insecure position within the cabinet. Having no real authority of his own, of course he is going to throw elbows and try to find an area in which he can take the lead. It is unlikely that he will lead on either postal reform or this moratorium scheme — and it is unlikely that the cabinet will simply sign off on the moratorium scheme as floated by Kamei. Little wonder that he also attacked the NSB as undermining the one area in which he is sure to have some influence, the cabinet committee to coordinate among the government parties.
Fujii needs to speak that much more decisively on Kamei’s irrelevancy on this matter. Perhaps he can sit on a cabinet committee, in which his views would be reliably drowned out by Fujii and whoever else they found to round out the group. All of which goes to suggest that investors and commentators should not overreact to Kamei’s freelancing — he still has to convince his colleagues in the cabinet that his ideas are sensible.
However, refereeing turf battles is one role that Hatoyama Yukio should be playing. He should not be leaving his team of rivals to resolve their own disputes. Hatoyama as prime minister should be issuing orders to ministers and establishing boundaries. How many more days is he going to let Kamei make extravagant claims to the media about the powers of his portfolio?
Of course, there is also a media relations story here too. If Hatoyama were to appoint a press secretary to coordinate media affairs, he might not be able to keep Kamei from putting himself in front of cameras, but the media could then go to the press secretary who would stress that Kamei has no authority to speak on behalf of the cabinet as a whole and that policy X has not yet been submitted to a cabinet meeting for a decision. The government needs to control its image and it needs to control its message. For the moment, it seems to be having a hard time when it comes to dealing with Kamei.
But it is still early in the government’s tenure, which is the final point. The policymaking process is still nothing more than a framework. It is still unclear which ministers will emerge as the leaders who make the cabinet work. It is far too early to say that Kamei, a minor minister on the basis of his portfolio if not on the basis of his party position, will wreck the government. But some cabinet ministers and the prime minister are going to have to find a way to manage the obstreperous leader of one of the DPJ’s tiny coalition partners.