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2009年9月 3日 (木)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 2(IHT/Asahi: September 3,2009)
EDITORIAL: Message to Hatoyama

Yukio Hatoyama, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, must be feeling like the captain of a ship that is about to encounter tempestuous waters with an awesome cargo.

Hatoyama is to be named prime minister at a special session of the Diet on Sept. 16. He has only until then to fine-tune his DPJ-led administration to give it a firm grip on the reins of government. With no model to go by, he has only a blank canvas to work with.

Strike while the iron is hot, as the old adage goes.

In an opinion poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun immediately after Sunday's Lower House election, about 70 percent of respondents said they were "glad" of the change of government and pinned their hopes on the new DPJ administration. The figure indicates the former main opposition party's call for change--to end decades of Liberal Democratic Party politics and let the people, rather than bureaucrats, call the shots in policymaking--resonated widely with voters.

National Strategy Bureau is key

How should the DPJ respond to the people's expectations? Most importantly, the party must exercise firm authority over every aspect of government and create a system that will put the right people in the right places to boldly prioritize the party's policies.

The DPJ aims to integrate the decision-making processes for the Cabinet and the ruling party. And in a departure from the traditional wholesale dumping of work on bureaucrats, the party in power will be responsible for policymaking. In essence, the DPJ aims to radically transform the system of running the government into one that focuses on serving the interests of the nation and its citizens.

The DPJ plans to appoint about 100 party legislators to government ministries and agencies. They will work with the relevant Cabinet ministers in policymaking, rather than just go along with decisions and proposals made by government officials. In short, the people's elected representatives will make decisions first and then tell bureaucrats what to do.

The National Strategy Bureau that will be created to answer directly to the prime minister will hold the key to the successful functioning of this system under which the administration takes the initiative and reduces dependence on the bureaucracy.

By overturning the traditional "bottom-up" budget compilation procedure, directed mainly by Finance Ministry bureaucrats, the new bureau will take a top-down approach, deciding priority policies first. The bureau will also work out a grand design for the nation, including foreign policy.

This bureau is pivotal to the new administration's decision-making setup with the prime minister at the top of the pyramid.

This is probably what is needed today. However, throughout the long years of LDP rule, fiscal decisions were made collectively by the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, whose members included high-profile economists and academics, and the nation's entrenched, mammoth bureaucracy. But with the DPJ now set to undertake the task under an entirely new system, the transition will amount to nothing short of major surgery.

New political-bureaucratic collaboration

This makes the selection of the Cabinet minister in charge of the new National Strategy Bureau all the more critical and tricky. The individual would have to be not only policy savvy, but also be a tough politician capable of overcoming resistance from within and outside the party. And members of the bureau should not be limited to lawmakers alone. The DPJ ought to actively enlist qualified people from the private sector and ensure the bureau is staffed by competent and highly motivated individuals.

The proposed Administrative Reform Council is to work at eliminating administrative waste and corruption--a major crusade promised by the DPJ. The Cabinet minister in charge of this council will be responsible not only for cutting wasteful spending to secure the funds needed to finance policies, but also for removing voters' long-held mistrust in politics by bringing transparency to politics and administrative matters.

The council will have to produce immediate results if the public is to see any tangible change from the LDP years.

The finance minister deals directly with the nation's fiscal policy. The foreign minister directs diplomatic negotiations while coordinating the opinions of his party and the ruling coalition. The chief Cabinet secretary is the administration's linchpin. Any bad decision in the selection of people for these key Cabinet posts will immediately bring the new administration to a grinding halt.

Since the Cabinet members are the main pillars to support the administration's foundations, it should adopt a long-range strategy for selection of members so as to avoid mid-term replacements.

It is also crucial that a lively, cooperative relationship be established between the administration and the bureaucracy.

While it is obvious that the people's elected representatives should lead politics, their numbers are limited, and they cannot be expected to be responsible for everything.

Bureaucrats with a wealth of knowledge and experience are professionals in planning and implementing policies. Without drawing upon their expertise and relying on their support, the administration will have little chance of being able to run the nation efficiently.

We also have requests to make of our government officials. They are rightfully proud of having supported the nation's postwar prosperity and looked out for the national interest. We want them to live up to their pride in the service of the new administration. They should advise the new political leaders on how to run the government fairly and efficiently, and stop them if they start grandstanding. Why not prove their mettle by giving the bureaucracy a "new face"?

Party unity is everything

We also have something we want the DPJ's 140-plus rookie legislators to think about. That is, what do the people who elected them and orchestrated this change of government expect of the DPJ?

Many ruling party legislators will not be placed in government ministries and agencies, but we expect them to speak out as responsible politicians and actively involve themselves in the policymaking process to reflect the will of the people.

At the same time, every DPJ legislator must fully recognize his or her responsibility to honor any decision made by the ruling party. They must strictly avoid any inappropriate word or action that will unnecessarily fragment the party's power, which is given by the people.

Perhaps the person who understands this best is Ichiro Ozawa, the party's acting president who effectively directed the Lower House election campaign.

Ozawa personally engineered the birth of the Morihiro Hosokawa administration 16 years ago, but it did not last even a year. One major reason for its collapse lay in the fact that it was a cobbled-together alliance of as many as seven parties and a group that could not stay united.

With a court hearing coming up for Ozawa's aide who was arrested for his alleged role in the illegal donations from Nishimatsu Construction Co., Ozawa is expected to decline a Cabinet posting for now and continue as the party's campaign guru.

But whether Ozawa will remain acting president or accept the post of secretary-general, we hope he will make full use of his power and experience in consolidating leadership of Hatoyama as prime minister.

It will be no easy task to keep a mammoth ruling party together. But if the DPJ proves incapable of it, the party will have betrayed the people who chose to entrust their nation to a new administration in the face of formidable challenges.


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