Establish policy-making system that gets job done
The government and the Democratic Party of Japan are broadly rethinking their policy-making process.
The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his ruling party should establish a policy-making framework that can function effectively, drawing on the bitter lesson learned from the turmoil experienced under the governments of his predecessors, Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan.
The Noda administration has created a council of representatives from the government and the ruling parties in preparation for the compilation of the next fiscal budget.
The council comprises the prime minister, relevant Cabinet members, and chief policymakers and other senior officials from the DPJ and its junior coalition partner, the People's New Party.
The move is intended to clearly show the government and the ruling parties are ready and willing to act as one in putting together the new budget.
Noda has already said government policies will be finalized only after obtaining consent from the chairman of the DPJ Policy Research Committee.
He has also reinstated the DPJ Tax Research Commission, which the party scrapped when it came into power two years ago.
In addition, the prime minister has established a six-member council that will grant final approval for major government policies.
The new organ includes the prime minister, the DPJ secretary general and other representatives from the party's top three organs.
Party more prominent
Taken as a whole, the ruling parties are more strongly represented in the new policy-making framework than in the past.
This shows the DPJ has, in effect, retracted its pledge to ensure the government assumes the sole responsibility for policy-making--a promise that was trumpeted in the party's manifesto for the 2009 general election--instead of sharing that task with the ruling party.
The DPJ Policy Research Committee was scrapped by Hatoyama's administration, but this hampered efforts to smoothly coordinate policy, leaving many DPJ members strongly dissatisfied with their lack of involvement in the process.
Kan's government reinstated the DPJ's policy research panel, but only as an organ tasked with advancing policy proposals. Ultimately, the committee was merely used as a tool for party members to vent their frustration.
It is safe to say the attempts by the Hatoyama and Kan governments to better promote policy coordination ended up as idealistic but unrealistic slogans, due to the lack of experience and ability displayed in that undertaking by senior officials of the government and the ruling coalition.
We find it reasonable for Noda to reconsider relations between the government and the DPJ, apparently hoping to avoid going the same way as Hatoyama and Kan.
The current divided Diet--the opposition-controlled House of Councillors and the ruling coalition-dominated House of Representatives--can pose a dilemma for the government. In many instances, it will be impossible to translate government policies into action unless a consensus is formed between the ruling and opposition camps through negotiations.
Given this, greater policy-making power vested in the DPJ-PNP ruling coalition would benefit the parties when it comes to policy negotiations with the opposition camp.
However, we have some misgivings about the new policy-making structure.
The ruling parties could come to hold more power than the government, leaving important government policies at the mercy of the ruling coalition.
The fortunes of the Noda administration depend on whether it will be able to properly deal with immediate tasks, including plans to temporarily increase taxes for post-quake reconstruction and raise the consumption tax rate to help rework the social security system.
Key issues also include whether the nation will join negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade pact.
Efforts by Noda to tackle these challenges at his initiative should not be frustrated as a result of resistance from DPJ officials and members.
The DPJ's top cadre, including party Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi and Policy Research Committee Chairman Seiji Maehara, should work together in harmony with the Cabinet to exercise sufficient leadership over their party.
The top echelon will be tested over whether it can make the DPJ shed its existing image as "a ruling party that cannot make decisions."
The Noda administration is also considering a plan to create an organ tentatively called the "national policy council" that will lead economic and fiscal management.
We hope the government will make clear-cut decisions about what kind of role will be played by which government organ.
If the policy-making system used by the government and the ruling coalition is vested with greater transparency and functions properly, we believe the opposition parties will find it easier to join negotiations with the ruling camp.
The prime minister must strive to set up a framework that would facilitate consensus between the ruling and opposition camps over policy issues.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 22, 2011)