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2011年1月17日 (月)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 15
EDITORIAL: Kan's new Cabinet

Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday reorganized his Cabinet for the second time.

He was essentially forced to reshuffle his team by the Upper House censure motions passed against former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku and former transport minister Sumio Mabuchi.

In a news conference Friday, however, Kan stressed that the move was aimed at "maximizing Japan's ability to ride out the crisis." If so, the new Cabinet must deliver a performance that proves Kan's claim.

Kan said he appointed Kaoru Yosano as economic and fiscal policy minister to press ahead with social security and revenue sources reforms. He also said some other appointments, including Banri Kaieda as economy, trade and industry minister were aimed at promoting agricultural reform and Japan's participation in international economic cooperation frameworks such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

Kan has been criticized for failing to make clear his policy priorities and for waffling on his initiatives without showing a solid commitment.

We can see that in the reshuffle, Kan is trying to clarify his policy goals and create a team capable of achieving them.

Kan has switched from trying to deliver only on his party's election manifesto goals to focusing his efforts on two especially important areas.

The prime minister still faces a tough slog. With his administration in such a bind, Kan needs to finally show the leadership in policymaking by elected officials that is the centerpiece of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's platform--and to push through reforms that the nation badly needs.

It is vital for the administration to make solid efforts to win public support for its policy agenda.

Kan told the media he will start debate on how to secure sustainable sources of revenue as his government maps out a new future for social security. He has apparently learned that he cannot hope to win public support for a consumption tax hike only by stressing the country's fiscal crunch.

The success of his policy drive depends on whether he can lay down convincing visions for the future of social security and agriculture that will ease public anxieties.

The role of the chief Cabinet secretary is crucial to ensuring that lawmakers will assume leadership in policymaking.

The DPJ government has been plagued by disharmony in the Cabinet since coming to power in 2009. Ministers have failed to restrain themselves from offering their own personal points of view.

For all the criticism against him, it is fair to say that Sengoku helped harmonize conflicting interests by taking on thankless tasks.

Can the 46-year-old Yukio Edano, who has become the youngest-ever chief Cabinet secretary, take over Sengoku's role? Although known for his eloquence, Edano has made some controversial remarks.

If the new Cabinet wants to convince the public of its ability to tackle tough challenges, the ministers need to compensate for each other's individual weaknesses.

As we have repeatedly argued, Kan needs a team of competent aids who can work closely in his support.

Some of his Cabinet choices have come as a surprise, including the appointment of Hirohisa Fujii, 78, as deputy chief Cabinet secretary, and Satsuki Eda, 69, as justice minister.

In order to silence criticism about Kan's decisions, these veteran lawmakers need to perform solidly.

The challenge Kan's team will face immediately is how to deal with former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa's political funds scandal.

DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada asked Ozawa to voluntarily attend a session of the Lower House Political Ethics Council by Friday to answer questions about the scandal. Ozawa did not honor Okada's request.

Unless the government can settle this issue swiftly, Kan's claims about his new Cabinet may quickly prove themselves to be all hype and no substance.


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