Coming in the wake of the indictment of three of Ozawa Ichiro’s former secretaries, the media is reporting Edano’s appointment as another blow to Ozawa, as Edano is marked as an anti-Ozawa partisan, having opposed the DPJ’s merger with Ozawa’s Liberal Party from the very beginning and continuing to criticize Ozawa in the years following the merger. Indeed, not long ago Edano publicly suggested that if Ozawa could not convince the public to see his side of the story, he would “have to take responsibility” for what he had done (i.e., resign).
That might be reading too much into an appointment that is not altogether surprising. There was considerable surprise back in September that Edano had been left out of the government, suggesting that he was at the top of the list of backbenchers waiting to join the cabinet. The budget review hearings conducted by the GRU last year show that the post is an important one, that needed to be filled by a full-time minister, especially with the government’s submitting legislation that will elevate the national strategy office into a full bureau (and give the GRU’s hearings legal standing). Sengoku will undoubtedly have his hands full building a bureau whose powers and functions remain a mystery. Perhaps the timing was intended to show that Hatoyama is in charge even as he confirmed Ozawa’s staying on as secretary-general, but believe it or not, the story of the Hatoyama government is not entirely or even mostly a story about Ozawa Ichiro.
Ozawa has pressured the government on certain issues and centralized functions in his office so that all requests to the government go through him, but the media’s focus on Ozawa has overshadowed the important work the government is doing on building a new policymaking process, a project with which Ozawa is in full agreement (but stories about areas in which the government and the secretary-general are in full agreement apparently make for less interesting copy). In addition to the above-mentioned “political leadership” bill, the cabinet is also set to approve a civil service reform bill that could completely upend the traditional practices of the bureaucracy, doing away with the position of administrative vice-minister, restoring to the cabinet the right to make personnel appointments (and with it, the right to ignore seniority within the ministry and appoint younger officials or civilians to senior posts), and other reforms. These are remarkable changes under consideration — with remarkably little public protest from the bureaucracy — and they deserve more attention than they have received.
How the Hatoyama cabinet manages Ozawa has from the beginning been one of the more important challenges facing the DPJ-led government, but it is by no means the only challenge or the most important challenge. It would be nice if the news media remembered that from time to time and devoted a little less attention to the ongoing drama of Ozawa and a little more attention to what the Hatoyama government is actually doing with the majority the public awarded it last year.