For New Komeito a time to reflect, rebuild
The two highest-ranking members of New Komeito--its leader and secretary general--lost their seats in last Sunday's House of Representatives election, marking the most crushing defeat for the party since its foundation.
It should now calmly examine the causes of its defeat and learn lessons from it for its renewal.
All eight Komeito candidates fielded in single-seat constituencies lost their seats and the party won 21 seats in the proportional representation section of the election, which is fewer than the 25 seats it gained in the 1967 lower house election, the first lower house poll in which Komeito participated. It is no exaggeration to say the party is now facing its greatest crisis.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, chairman of the party's Policy Research Council, is expected to become the new party leader. What he and the new leadership must do first is rebuild the party ahead of the House of Councillors election next summer.
Tied to falling LDP
There is no doubt that the resounding defeat of Komeito--which has a solid support base in lay buddhist organization Soka Gakkai--is due to the strong headwind of voter dissatisfaction that blew against the Liberal Democratic Party. Komeito was effectively toppled with its coalition partner.
Komeito garnered about 8.05 million votes in the proportional representation section of the election, about 700,000 to 900,000 votes fewer than it achieved in the previous two polls. The party's defeat may also be attributed to the fact that the party was not able to collect many votes cast by supporters of the LDP this time.
Moreover, it is undeniable that the election result was partly due to the fact that Komeito was tarred with the same brush as the scandal-hit LDP. Komeito was unable to promote itself as a unique party, finding that it had slowly been cast into oblivion over the past decade spent as the LDP's junior coalition partner.
Komeito apparently had some problems in deciding on its policies. For example, the party always took a reluctant stance toward the utilization of the Self-Defense Forces at key moments, including the Afghan and Iraq wars launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, because they succumbed to the deep-rooted "nonmilitarism and peace" orientation of Soka Gakkai members.
It was Komeito that took the initiative in realizing the flat-sum cash benefit program on which the administration of Prime Minister Taro Aso spent a hefty 2 trillion yen. However, the program has had a limited effect in terms of stimulating the economy and was criticized as pork-barreling.
During the final stage of the administration of former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, senior Komeito members made remarks that could be construed as calling for Fukuda to be replaced. Some observers also have pointed out that Komeito grew conceited due to its increased influence over the LDP it achieved through vital support it gave the LDP in elections.
On the other hand, the experience gained by Komeito during its time in the LDP-Komeito coalition must surely be a valuable asset. Previously in perpetual opposition as a force that only criticized the ruling party, Komeito's time in power has made it aware of the political responsibilities of a ruling party, and has given it experience in planning and implementing realistic policies and formulating foreign and national security policies from a global standpoint.
Avoid cozying up to DPJ
We hope Komeito will rebuild itself by studying and drawing on its experiences as a ruling coalition party, which are formed of both good and bad aspects.
Komeito likely will adopt an issue-by-issue stance toward the Democratic Party of Japan, but it must avoid the foolish act of snuggling up to the new administration without first considering its policies.
Komeito must act with courage in taking policies to the public, even if they might cause an increased burden, and convince them of the need for hard-to-sell policies rather than pandering to populism.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 6, 2009)
大臣補佐官、advisers to ministers
secretary general、 幹事長
The Yomiuri Shimbun(Sep. 5, 2009)
Ozawa will test Hatoyama's mettle
Acting Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa is set to become the party's secretary general, a crucial position at the heart of the administration to be inaugurated under prime minister in waiting Yukio Hatoyama.
Hatoyama, who is DPJ president, has been at pains to explain that he appointed Ozawa because he guided the DPJ to a landslide victory in the House of Representatives election Sunday.
"We managed to win more than 300 seats thanks to Acting President Ozawa," Hatoyama said.
Of course, this cannot be the only reason for his appointment.
Hatoyama apparently plans to put Ozawa in charge of the DPJ campaign for next summer's House of Councillors election so the party can snatch a single-party majority in the upper house and form an administration that can hold sway over both chambers of the Diet.
The DPJ has grown into a political juggernaut holding a total of nearly 420 seats in the upper and lower houses. Hatoyama seems to believe that he needs the influence and experience of Ozawa, who once served as secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, to ensure all the members of the big party keep pulling in the same direction.
However, Ozawa's appointment as DPJ secretary general also has raised some concerns in the political arena.
New kids on the block
The ranks of Ozawa supporters within the DPJ have swollen with the arrival of dozens of rookie candidates--dubbed "Ozawa kids" because he managed their nominations and campaign preparations--in the last election. Some observers have suggested Ozawa could end up wielding too much influence over the management of party affairs.
Under LDP-led governments, the party held more influence over policy decisions than the administration did. However, the DPJ wants to reverse this balance and give more power to the envisaged administration.
However, achieving this goal will be no easy feat if Ozawa, who is a top party official but not a member of the envisaged cabinet, throws his weight around on policy decisions.
Hatoyama quoted Ozawa as saying during their talks Thursday night that he would not, in principle, be involved in making policy decisions since the government is supposed to do that.
Ozawa's remark about his "nonintervention in policy decisions" emboldened Hatoyama enough to tell reporters that Ozawa's appointment would not create a dual system of power. But we have doubts about whether this will really be the case.
DPJ must stay united
Hatoyama said a total of about 100 lawmakers would be allocated to government ministries and agencies as ministers, vice ministers, parliamentary secretaries, advisers to ministers and in other positions so the government can be the sole arbiter of policy decisions.
However, policies drafted by such lawmakers cannot be implemented unless they are written up as bills and pass both Diet chambers. Enacting bills requires the cooperation of the party--including the secretary general, who has responsibility over Diet affairs as part of party management.
Hatoyama has a responsibility to exercise firm leadership to keep Ozawa on a short leash so he does not run away with the party.
Meanwhile, preparations for the transition of power are running late. Even a brief intermission is impermissible in politics. Hatoyama should choose his lineup of key ministers as soon as possible.
Ozawa has been criticized in the past for his attitude and high-handed behavior, such as missing important meetings or refusing to provide detailed explanations. Ozawa will have to correct his ways if he is to become secretary general of the nation's largest party.
Now, more than ever, Ozawa will need to offer greater accountability over the scandal involving illicit donations from Nishimatsu Construction Co. that eventually led to the indictment of his government-funded secretary.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 5, 2009)
Actions speak louder than words on U.S. ties
Words alone are not enough to build a relationship of trust between Japan and the United States. Actions also will be important for crafting deeper ties.
During his telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama, Democratic Party of Japan President Yukio Hatoyama said the Japan-U.S. security alliance remained the "foundation" of Japan's foreign policy. The two leaders also agreed that their nations would build future-oriented relations. Hatoyama echoed these comments during his meeting Thursday with new U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos.
A call from the U.S. president and a visit by the ambassador so soon after the DPJ's landslide victory in the House of Representatives election indicates that the U.S. government attaches great importance to ties with Japan but, at the same time, is concerned about the future bilateral relationship.
These anxieties stemmed partly from Hatoyama's recent op-ed piece in The New York Times that caused a stir by expressing views that appeared to be critical of the United States.
Article invited confusion
The article, which was published in the newspaper's electronic version as a translated excerpt from an article originally carried in a monthly Japanese magazine, contained comments including, "Japan has been continually buffeted by the winds of market fundamentalism in a U.S.-led movement...Consequently, human dignity is lost," and Japan and other Asian nations "want to restrain U.S. political and economic excesses."
Hatoyama later explained that he did not intend to espouse anti-U.S. views in the article. But it is undeniable that the article included expressions critical of the United States and, as a result, gave the impression it was anti-U.S.
Reaction in the United States also has been shaped by mounting distrust against DPJ policy planks such as opposition to the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling activities in the Indian Ocean and calls for reviewing the planned realignment of U.S. forces stationed in Japan.
Hatoyama is no longer a mere opposition leader; he will soon become this nation's prime minister. He should remember that his remarks carry considerable weight.
He should not simply stick to underlining differences between his party and the government and ruling parties, as he did while he was an opposition member. Rather, Hatoyama should commit himself to preserving policies that deserve to be kept in place and develop them into better ones.
Hatoyama has a busy--and important--diplomatic schedule coming up. He is expected to hold his first summit meeting with Obama later this month around the time when a U.N. General Assembly meeting is to be held. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to visit Japan in October, and Obama is penciled in to visit Japan in November.
United stance needed
Initially, Hatoyama might only be obliged to pay lip service to the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance. But words by themselves will certainly not be enough over the long term.
Tokyo and Washington face a raft of important issues that must be tackled together, such as the fight against terrorism, North Korea's nuclear ambitions, the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, and reviving the staggering world economy. What role will Japan play to resolve these issues? If the DPJ intends to end the refueling mission, it must present concrete alternative measures.
During talks with the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party aimed at striking a deal on forming a coalition, the DPJ proposed that pursuing a close and equal alliance with the United States be included as a policy in a consensus document among the parties. The DPJ apparently wants to make more demands of the United States than ever before.
However, the party should not forget that, as long as it intends to be more willing to speak its mind, it must bear due responsibilities in the international community.
Hatoyama's repeated verbal overtures seeking a relationship of trust with Obama will not amount to anything unless they are backed up with actions.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 4, 2009)
New coalition govt needs realistic security policy
The Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party began talks Wednesday on forming a tripartite coalition government.
However, before forming their coalition, it is vital that they reach a consensus over policy issues, as any outstanding ambiguities will lead to serious problems in the future. All three parties must be prepared to make necessary adjustments to their respective policies.
The DPJ won an unprecedented 308 seats in Sunday's House of Representatives election, though it has less than a single-party majority in the House of Councillors. The DPJ is thus forging a coalition government with the SDP and the PNP in an apparent attempt to ensure policy measures are carried out in a stable manner.
In previous coalition governments, there have been a number of cases in which small parties have stuck steadfastly to their individual policies to stress the significance of their existence within the government. However, this merely caused confusion. The DPJ should learn lessons from such precedents and be wary about making easy concessions.
The SDP is demanding that a ruling coalition organ be established to review bills and other policies before they are approved by the Cabinet. Though this kind of body has existed in the past, it likely would cause problems this time around, as it would contradict the DPJ's policy to make its administration the sole arbiter vis-a-vis policy decisions.
Meanwhile, it is rumored that DPJ Acting President Ichiro Ozawa likely will be given an important post within the DPJ, but not as part of the Cabinet. However, Ozawa has many supporters and wields considerable influence, and if he has a large say in policy decisions, it would lead once again to a dual system of power.
The coalition talks are based on "common policies" for six items--including a freeze on the consumption tax rate--that the three parties agreed upon prior to the lower house election.
However, the real issues to be thrashed out during the talks are foreign and security policies. These topics were not included in the common policies because the parties' respective stances are so different.
For example, the DPJ believes that Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels should continue their refueling mission in the Indian Ocean until January, but the SDP is demanding an immediate pullout.
In addition, the DPJ approves of the MSDF's antipiracy mission in waters off Somalia, while the SDP insists the Japan Coast Guard should be running the operation.
The refueling mission represents Japan's sole contribution of personnel to international efforts against terrorism, and the nation's efforts are highly appreciated by the countries concerned. We believe it is a matter of course that this mission continue, even after January.
Furthermore, it is unrealistic for the JCG to take the place of the MSDF in the antipiracy mission in light of differences in their respective equipment and backup systems.
A more pressing concern is that both the DPJ and the SDP have policies to review the plan to relocate U.S. forces in Japan. According to the plan, the transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to the shores of Camp Schwab in Nago, both in Okinawa Prefecture, would occur five years from now.
If this planned transfer is canceled, 13 years of negotiations between the Japanese and U.S. governments will have been for naught, and the return of the air station site to Japan will be deferred. In addition, a plan to relocate 8,000 marines to Guam--a measure aimed at alleviating burdens on people in the prefecture--would be scrapped.
It is completely understandable that a U.S. State Department spokesman on Monday said Washington will never renegotiate the relocation plan.
In the world of diplomacy, it is not possible under normal circumstances for one nation's desires to be completely realized. Therefore, the DPJ should never compromise its flexibility nor reduce its options in diplomatic affairs by sticking to the various stances it adopted as the opposition when it was criticizing the government.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 3, 2009)
Defeat leaves LDP at political crossroads
The Liberal Democratic Party has begun to choose a new party president to succeed Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has announced he will step down as party leader to take responsibility for the LDP's crushing defeat in Sunday's House of Representatives election.
Can the LDP play a role in a system in which power alternates between two major political parties? Can the LDP fulfill its role as an opposition party and keep a close eye on the administration led by Democratic Party of Japan President Yukio Hatoyama? The LDP still has serious responsibilities to live up to even after being relegated to the opposition benches.
The LDP must quickly select a new party president to lead its reconstruction.
However, the LDP intends to put off the party presidential election until after mid-September when a special Diet session is to be called to elect the new prime minister. According to the LDP, the purpose is to listen to the opinions of the prefectural chapters and other local party organizations, and rank-and-file party members, and to reflect them in the party presidential election. But under such circumstances, LDP lawmakers will vote for the current prime minister and LDP president, Taro Aso, in the Diet session.
It is a little pathetic that, even as a makeshift measure, the LDP will recommend as prime minster the party president who will step down from the post after voters said "no" to him in the general election.
Antipathy toward Aso
Several LDP lawmakers oppose the postponement of the party presidential election, asserting that they would rather cast a blank ballot than have to write "Aso" in the Diet's vote on the prime minister. If the party falls into confusion, it could lead to a party split. The LDP should take the current situation seriously.
It is important to listen to the voices of members of local party chapters and other related organizations, but does the LDP have a month to spare to reflect these opinions in the party presidential election?
It took only about 10 days to choose a new party president when changing from former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa to Yohei Kono, and from former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. It is time for the LDP to select a new party president as soon as possible and prepare to face the Hatoyama administration.
Of course, when doing so, it is natural that the LDP should seek input from party chapters and members across the country and reflect those opinions in the efforts to reconstruct the party.
Party on the brink
The LDP faces the greatest crisis since its foundation. Whether a leader who can clearly display his intentions and vision for party reconstruction will emerge is of paramount importance. Politicians who are always keeping an eye on the movements of party factions are not qualified to lead.
To rebuild the party, it is indispensable to thoroughly review the reasons for its crushing defeat in the general election.
Although the direction of the party's fundamental principles and policies is not basically wrong, the market fundamentalism and excessive structural changes under the administration of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi have invited the expansion of the income gap and economically exhausted provincial areas. It also is necessary to review the "theatrical politics," or sensationalist political approach seen under the Koizumi administration.
Some observers point out that the LDP has never been an organized political party because support groups for individual party lawmakers virtually act as party chapters. In addition, the LDP election campaign strategy, which has more and more come to rely on coalition partner New Komeito and Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organization that is New Komeito's main supporter, has weakened the foundations of the LDP's original support bases.
The public will be watching closely to see whether the LDP can make a strong comeback and regain control of the government. If the party remains stupefied for long, the reputation of the LDP, which had long been a ruling party, will be ruined.
(From the Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 2, 2009)
Continuity important for basic policies
Democratic Party of Japan President Yukio Hatoyama has begun the process of launching a new administration. It is important for Hatoyama, first and foremost, to divide the policies pledged in the DPJ's manifesto into those that should be implemented immediately and those that the party should take time to fine-tune.
The DPJ has said that a new "national strategy bureau" that it will establish under the direct control of the prime minister will serve as a control tower for the government's budget compilation and foreign policy.
The central government ministries and agencies have submitted their respective budgetary requests for fiscal 2010 ahead of Monday's deadline. The DPJ, however, plans to review the budgetary request guidelines, which were approved by the Cabinet on July 1.
A total of 7.1 trillion yen will be needed in the next fiscal year to fund the child benefit program and other policies that the DPJ pledged in its manifesto. Although the DPJ has promised that an "administrative reform council," another new government body the DPJ plans to establish, will eliminate wasteful spending, can the necessary funds be squeezed out merely through belt-tightening measures?
The DPJ also is studying making savings by cutting some expenditures in the fiscal 2009 supplementary budget and appropriating the saved funds for the fiscal 2010 budget. But the party should deal carefully with the review of the supplementary budget, which is supporting the nation's economy.
Since the establishment of the national strategy bureau requires a revision of a related law, Hatoyama plans to first create a strategy office, which can be set up under a new government ordinance, and have it present the outline of the fiscal 2010 budget. Wasting time in creating the new organization, however, will end up delaying budget compilation.
Hatoyama should take to heart the importance of implementing economic measures speedily.
After being appointed prime minister at a special Diet session that is scheduled to be convened in the middle of this month, Hatoyama plans to visit the United States, where he will undertake summit diplomacy.
Hatoyama is scheduled to attend summit-level meetings on climate change and nuclear nonproliferation at the United Nations in New York and address the U.N. General Assembly. He also is scheduled to attend the Group of 20 financial summit meeting in Pittsburgh.
Emissions pledge unrealistic
Observers, however, have already voiced concerns about how Hatoyama will handle a midterm target for reducing Japan's emissions of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases by the end of 2020.
The DPJ has proposed that the emissions of such gases be reduced by 25 percent from the 1990 levels.
If Hatoyama, as prime minister, repeats the DPJ's pledge at the General Assembly meeting or any other key international meetings, it is possible that Japan will be required to meet this numerical target under a successor treaty to the 2008-12 Kyoto Protocol being negotiated for conclusion by the end of December.
The goal of reducing gas emissions by 25 percent from the 1990 levels will not be attainable merely with halfhearted energy-saving efforts. It requires innovative technological development. But there are limits to what Japan can achieve.
Emissions cuts have economic side effects, such as downward pressure on gross domestic product, and damaging people's livelihoods.
The DPJ should take this power transfer as an opportunity to review the midterm target from a pragmatic perspective. At least, it should avoid the foolish act of constraining itself by presenting such a high target as an international pledge.
Hatoyama has stated that a DPJ-led administration will need to respect the need for continuity in diplomatic and security policies, to a certain extent.
The next step he needs to take is to tell world leaders that the power transfer will not change Japan's basic stance on diplomatic relations and build relationships of trust with them.