The Kan government has formed, having retained eleven ministers from the Hatoyama government (as expected). Among the new faces in Kan’s cabinet of “irregular forces” are Noda Yoshihko (finance), Yamada Masahiko (agriculture), Arai Satoshi (national strategy), Genba Kōichirō (administrative reform), and, perhaps most prominently, Renhō (government revitalization).
Looking at the transition from the Hatoyama-Ozawa regime to the new DPJ cabinet, Michael Cucek reviews the history of the DPJ’s coming to power and the nature of the Ozawa’s strategy and concludes that under Kan, “the DPJ, the classical DPJ, is back.”
It is hard to disagree. Indeed, the haste with which Kan Naoto and his “Seven Magistrate” deputies have tried to break with Ozawa — Kan’s telling the former secretary-general to keep quiet, new DPJ election chief Azumi Jun’s decision to review Ozawa’s strategy of running two candidates in three-seat districts — are surely just the beginning of what will be weeks and months of distancing the party from Ozawa. More than that, Kan’s emphasis on grassroots politics, the basis for Kan’s calling his cabinet a “cabinet of irregulars” (or commandos), stands in marked contrast to Ozawa’s courtship of the same interest groups that had long sustained the LDP in power.
What does this “classic” approach mean for the DPJ’s plans to build a top-down policymaking process?
Perhaps the biggest change is that under Kan and DPJ secretary-general Edano Yukio the party will undo the concentration of power in the office of the secretary-general that occurred under Ozawa. Most notably the party has accepted the restoration of the policy research council, the primary demand of the reform movement that emerged earlier this year.
The new PRC, however, will look nothing like the LDP’s PRC, not least because there is no indication that Kan will roll back the restrictions on contact between backbenchers and bureaucrats that the Hatoyama government promulgated upon taking power. Genba, the minister for public service reform, will serve simultaneously in the cabinet and as the PRC chair. Genba himself said in his first press conference that the “former PRC” is not being restored, that the new PRC will not pose a threat to the government’s plans to unify policymaking in the cabinet. Instead it appears, at least based on Genba’s remarks, that the PRC will serve as a forum for two-way communication between cabinet and party. As a member of the cabinet, Genba’s responsibilities will include explaining the government’s policies to backbenchers in addition to facilitating debates about new policies among MPs. The principle of collective responsibility ought to restrain Genba from using his post to challenge the government: as a cabinet minister he is obligated to defend the government’s decisions once they have been made.
The new PRC will enable backbenchers, especially first-term backbenchers, to participate in policy debates and perhaps generate new policy ideas — but there is no sense that it marks a return to bottom-up policymaking in which party members wield a veto over every government decision.
In addition to creating a new PRC that is directly linked to the cabinet, the Kan government will keep the new secretary-general closer to the government — literally. Edano may occupy an office within the Kantei. The result would be that the secretary-general would act more like a political adviser to the prime minister than the autonomous strategist that Ozawa had become, and, as Edano said in his initial remarks, would be responsible for defending the government’s decision before the voting public. (The Kan-Edano relationship will invariably differ than the Hatoyama-Ozawa relationship not least because Kan will not be overshadowed by his secretary-general in the public’s eye.)
The result is that under Kan the DPJ will try to replace a government in which the ruling party had fewer veto players but in which the party’s one veto player was at least as powerful as the prime minister with a government in which the party may have more veto player but in which the prime minister is more powerful, more visible to the public, and more capable of controlling party officials. There will be more players involved in policy debates, but my sense is that Kan, with the help of Sengoku Yoshito, the new chief cabinet secretary, will not be reluctant to remind his subordinates of who is in charge of the government.
Of course, the question hanging over this new “un-Ozawa” system is whether Ozawa himself will accept it. Freed of formal responsibilities, Ozawa will now have the time to forge his political loyalists into an Ozawa faction should he want to, which would of course make life difficult for the Kan government. Inevitably the new regime will have to make its peace with Ozawa — or Ozawa will have to restrain himself from intervening in policymaking and political strategy.
Nevertheless, under Kan the DPJ has a prime minister who may be even more devoted to building a Westminster-style system than his predecessor. The DPJ may have made some necessary concessions to the party’s MPs, but the goal remains strengthening the role of the prime minister and the cabinet at the expense of bureaucrats and backbenchers.