Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Don't Know No Hatoyama Cabinet

The pollsters may ask selected voters over the weekend about whether or not they support it. The news media may report about its gatherings, or use its name as a shorthand for the government.

However, after yesterday's Cabinet meeting, the term "Hatoyama Cabinet" ceased to have anything but a technical meaning. The fight, short as it was, over Kamei Shizuka's draft of a law revising the Post Office privatization act, has broken it. You could tell by the body language. When a usually taciturn-to-the-point-of-morose figure like Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi is laughing and gesticulating like an albatross on nitrous oxide trying to take flight, you can be sure the event has hit the skids.

So deep was the wound in the collegiality of the cabinet inflicted by the Prime Minister by his forcing the acceptance of the Kamei draft that participants afterward did not even camouflage their jostling for position at a run for the prime ministership. Nakedly ambitious Internal Affairs and Telecommunications Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro -- a supporter of embattled Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro -- told reporters that what the PM had forced the Cabinet to approve was "the Kamei-Haraguchi bill." National Strategy Minister Sengoku Yoshito, the acknowledged leader of the anti-Ozawa wing of the DPJ and a fierce opponent of Kamei draft, explained his acquiescence to the bill in a calculatingly petulant verbal stiletto to the ribs of Hatoyama:

"Well, it's because I am in the Cabinet, isn't it?" ("Datte, naikaku ni irun da mon.")

Today Prime Minister Hatoyama will face off against Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu in Party Leader Question Time. A sad, bizarre, infuriating performance it will be: neither is the leader of anything.


Anonymous said...

"Well, it's because I am in Cabinet, isn't it?" ("Datte, naikaku ni irun da mon.")

Actually, this reprsents some kind of progress in thinking (although not speaking) if the Westminster system is what we are aiming for.

But the PM forcing an opposition parties plan, one, and as we all know, a frankly idiotic and destructive one - that is not quite how this "collective responsibility" gig is supposed to work!!!

Weird, weird. I really hope the end comes very very soon. Is Okada back from DC yet?

Maybe this blog is a family show, but, I think having a glass of this fine Austrian ale would be appropriate right now:

MTC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MTC said...

sigma1 -

a) Thank you for point out my having dropped the direct article.

b) The grammar police probably need to offer their two yen's worth on this one but the "da mon" of Sengoku's "Datte, naikaku ni irun da mon" seems to be dumping responsibility for everything in Hatoyama's lap - as in "I am going along because I am a member of this Cabinet, not because I think the plan is a decent one or because I feel my views have been given a fair hearing."

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah - by going that extra step of saying it, it mostly certainly gives out that nuance!

It is so surreal - I just finished reading the Japanese Asahi version, and actually in a way he says all of the right things - there was discussion in the cabinet and a difference of opinion, a quick decision was to be made, I used my own judgement, and (as PM) I told them to draw up a bill - let's go.

But of course, this brings in the obvious question:

How could one person's judgement, both in policy and political matters, be so terribly bad?

Generally in well functioning cabinets the decision making style often depends on the issue. The PM, perhaps his finance minister, and a few others at most will accelerate the debate on low to medium importance issues, and "none of your business issues" (ie the ones the senior membership staked their reputations on in in the election and won the mandate)but on important issues that are very much a collective concern, a consensual style is very important - not just for the unity of cabinet, but because those issues are likely the ones where not just cabinet ministers but MPs in parliament are going to go rogue.

As postal reform was very low down the list in the manifesto, and it was only a promise to freeze and review with public engagement in mind, Kamei's plan is most certainly appropriate for even some of the lower ranking members of cabinet to have their say. Especially given that your no.1 priority and act of government was eliminating wasteful spending - something Kamei would most likely like to reverse.

By using this kind of method on this kind of issue,and only for the first time showing some strength of leadership on a policy from a soon to be an opposition

Oh, and also: first rule of 'Cabinet Club' is: Don't talk about 'Cabinet Club'

Analysts and journalists can talk about these cabinet intrigues - it is somewhat inelegant to talk about them yourself as head of the cabinet!

Or, maybe that is why the possible dissenters went along with this - to let the responsibility to fall to Hatoyama and to let him show decisiveness on this issue might well be just what they want.....I find it hard to believe that Hatoyama wields that much power in Cabinet - even PMs have their limits!

Bryce said...

Wow. Headline should have read: "Hatoyama makes a decision"

I'd have to see the question he was answering, but couldn't "Datte, naikaku ni irun da mon" be translated as "I'm in the Cabinet, aren't I?" or "C'mon now, you know I'm in Cabinet, right?" As in, "Why are you asking me silly questions like that, you impertinent rube?"

"...the PM forcing an opposition parties plan..."

Except, Shizuka-chan is not an opposition politician. And Westminster leaders have supported controversial legislation emerging from minor parties in the past.

Bryce said...

BTW, now would be a silly time to challenge Hatoyama. The budget comes into effect in a little over an hour, and once people start feeling the effect of all that money sloshing around the system, we may see a bump in the polls. Or at least a blip.

Anonymous said...

Bryce - to quote myself:

"soon to be an opposition party" -

As you can see I am aware of this - apologies for the subconscious slip in the first comment.

But just looking at the reality of what everyone in the Cabinet would have known with crystal clarity.

I doubt anyone truly labors under the impression that Kamei is behaving as a member of the coalition.

I am also keenly aware of the fact that the government will support minority party's legislation - that is generally the MO of coalition governments after all.

My point is that neither the Cabinet, nor the PNP have been acting like the Cabinet or a coalition party. Cabinet members have been talking out of turn for quite some time now, and Kamei sprung this legislation on Haraguchi and the rest of the DPJ and basically publically embarrassed them into accepting it. Kamei knows his party is losing relevance by the day - and thus he is acting rationally - Hatoyama seems to be the only one unaware of this - or so it would seem.

Once the budget passed the upper house - the coalition should have been dissolved and Kamei kicked out of cabinet. The DPJ does not require the PNP for supply and confidence votes after all and they have not attempted to hide their developing relationship with New Komeito.

Instead, despite showing all of this, Hatoyama, in showing leadership for the first time, went quite the other way. It seems silly to use this kind of tactic when it is not even your own party's manifesto - and especially when it is a party that is becoming more dispensable by the day.

That is why I am extremely suspicious that Sengoku was truly sincere in his claim to be merely following the orders of Cabinet....especially because he has shown a willingness to talk out of turn previously - why stop now? Especially because this is a genuinely important issue to people like him.

Anonymous said...

"A calculatingly petulant verbal stiletto to the ribs of Hatoyama".

That's a bit strong isn't it, for such a simple statement? Hatoyama and Sengoku respect each other and have been friends for years. Yes, it's public knowledge that there were irreconcilable differences between his view and Kamei, who tried to bounce the cabinet. So it went to Hatoyama, who ruled in Kamei's favour. Sengoku explained that he has reluctantly gone along with the decision because "Well, I'm a member of the cabinet." His message, presumably, is that he can live with it and respects the process. Big deal.