When I saw the below graphic in yestermorn's Tokyo Shimbun, I cried out, "No, no it can’t be! This is the Liberal Democratic Party all over again ! O.K, maybe there will not be DPJ zoku giin but there is no national strategy oversight. Please say it isn’t so!"
The graphic -- which is unfortunately not appended to the abbreviated online version of the article, which can be found here -- shows the work flow within the Democratic Party of Japan's reestablished Policy Research Council and its connection with the decisions of the Cabinet.
Prospective bills and policy recommendations flow from DPJ research committees specializing in specific policy areas (it is unclear whether or not these will correspond one-to-one with the ministries, as they did in the LDP era) to the Policy Research Council's Directors Council (seicho yakuinkai), which is comprised of the PRC's Executive Committee and the heads of all the research committees. The Directors Council will then send reports to the Executive Council (seichokanbukai), which is comprised of the Executive Committee and the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary (kanbufukuchokan), the highest-ranking bureaucrat in the prime minister's secretariat. The Executive Council will make revisions to the bill or policy recommendation, then send it back down to the Directors Council. If the Directors Council can abide by the revisions made by the Executive Council, the result is sent to the Cabinet to receive a cabinet stamp of approval (kakugi kettei).
That's it. According to the graphic, bills and policy directives go directly from the DPJ's Policy Research Council to the Cabinet "pre-authorized" (jizen shonin). Bureaucrats get their hands on the bills by offering advice to the research committees and by the presence of the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Executive Council.
The National Strategy Office, the supposed great reform of the bill-crafting process the DPJ promised the voters in its 2009 Manifesto, is nowhere in sight.
So much for Westminsterisation?
Perhaps not. According to the Tokyo Shimbun's account, the heads of the research committees are already grumbling that even this arrangement is over-centralized, that it gives too much power to the Policy Research Council Chairman (seicho kaicho) Maehara Seiji. This is, of course, what committee heads would say if they were angling for a little more leverage over the final product.
Keeping the committees from having too much say over the final policy product would be a feature, not a bug in the new system. The last thing that any DPJ leader wants, no matter which one you choose, is for sub-units of the party to band together into tribes (zoku) in support of particular industries and professions. That was one of the hallmarks of LDP governance. Utter loathing of the power of the zoku has been one of the core shared values keeping the DPJ in one piece.
But is what is on paper (in the paper) a fair representation of reality? One has to wonder.
Post-election, DPJ Leader Noda Yoshihiko had to do something to reward the failed party leadership candidates who, after running against Noda in the first round, turned around and instructed their followers to vote for Noda in the runoff against Kaeda Banri.
Rewarding Kano Michihiko was simple: he would get the same position he had before -- which suits the old agriculture, forestry and fisheries patrón just fine.
Maehara, however, presented more of a problem. Due to the questions that would inevitably arise from his office's having accepted donations from a foreign national, Maehara could not be in the Cabinet. The Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition parties would go to town over the illegal donations. Furthermore, due to Maehara's popularity with the public he had to be given a significant post.
Installing Maehara as the policy research council chair killed two birds with one stone. It gave Maehara a very visible and presumably vital position. At the same time it counters the influence Ozawa Ichiro can have on the party policy making process through his (Ozawa's) links to Secretary-General Koshiishi Azuma and Diet Affairs Committee chairman Hirano Hirofumi. Maehara will oppose whatever Ozawa and his allies propose, even if it is a resolution thanking the sun for rising every morning.
However, it is premature to believe that Noda has ceded policy drafting to Maehara and the Policy Research Council. Minister for National Strategy and Economic and Fiscal Policy Furukawa Motohisa is almost certainly not going to be just hanging out in the atrium of the Prime Minister's Residence, whistling. Maehara was, after all, a rival in the leadership contest, one who nearly derailed Noda's drive for the premiership. As likely as not, Maehara and the PRC are not so much the designated drivers as the designated big fat targets for Ozawa, Hatoyama and their followers to shoot their arrows into, while the ex-Finance Ministry bureaucrat Furukawa runs a below-the-radar policy shop close, both physically and philosophically, to the prime minister.
Just because you can diagram it doesn't mean it's real.
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