Sunday, February 21, 2010

As Regards the DPJ's Policy Making Assignments

Tobias Harris has a post up lauding the Democratic Party of Japan leadership's squelching of a request that the party rebuild its internal policy-generating apparatus. The proposed plan, put forth by a contingent of middle-ranking members, asks for reestablishment of the party policy research council, with sub-committees mirroring each of the ministries.

Policy research divisions mirroring the ministries provides the framework for the emergence of DPJ "tribesmen" (zoku giin)-- permanent advocates within the party of the interests of the ministries. As such, it is indeed a good thing that both DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro and DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio responded so negatively to the proposals.

However, keeping talented and creative individuals sitting on their hands, contributing nothing to the policy development process, seems a pointless waste of human experience. It also seems to guarantee the emergence of anti-mainstream study groups of mid-level party members in the DPJ, counterparts to the study groups that bedeviled (and still continue to bedevil) the Liberal Democratic Party.

Furthermore, maintaining the current concentration of the crafting of policy in Ozawa's hands is not desirable. The man is far-seeing but he is not omniscient. The party needs to have a means of generating alternate lines of thought as regards policy, so that the leadership is at least choosing from amongst a number of potential viable options.

However, Ozawa's insistence that freshman DPJ Diet members forget about contributing to policy making is quite reasonable. Ozawa caught no end of grief last fall for having pulled the freshmen off the Government Revitalization unit panels at the last minute. His insistence that the freshmen had far more important work to do getting themselves acquainted with their electoral districts seemed ridiculous given that the last House of Representatives election had taken place only three months earlier. Many of these freshmen appointed to the panels had expertise in finance, accounting and public administration. For many, it seemed that Ozawa was stripping the GRU panels of needed personnel merely in order to spite his intra-party critic, the then-state minister for revitalization Sengoku Yoshito.

However, there is a method in the madness of Ozawa's forcing talented freshmen to give up policy in favor of politicking...and it has nothing to do with concentrating policy making in either the Cabinet or in his hands. Having the freshmen and other fairly fresh DPJ members in their home districts, week after week, meeting and greeting their constituents, forces the LDP into having its Diet members and potential Diet members doing the same. The LDP has found it difficult to mount an effective counteroffensive in part because its forces are pinned down in defensive actions. It takes all the LDP's efforts and resources to simply match the efforts of the DPJ's cohorts, whose travel expenses and salaries are paid for by the taxpayer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Forgive me, but you write like you're not quite convinced about what the right answer is... The question is how to have backbenchers involved without replicating the problems of PARC. More junior ministers is one way to do this. That would be good by introducing some competitive pressure on ministers, so long as the posts were distributed according to ability and not faction. It is an interesting question though, and I'm not sure this gets us all of the way there.

BTW, the article below describes one interesting side-battle of the upcoming election: the last skirmish of the Tanaka faction - Ozawa in one corner and Aoki (i.e. Takeshita's frmer secretary) in the other. Ozawa seems confident, perhaps overly so? There are risks associated with running 2 candidates in the 2 seat districts that decide these things, and over-confidence is a trait Ozawa sometimes has in spades.