Friday, September 02, 2011

Noda's Upcoming Cabinet Selections Vs. The Hirano Hirofumi Selection

I suppose that I should be feeling relieved that the newspapers are reporting that Hirano Tatsuo will be continuing in his role as State Minister for Reconstruction and that Hosono Goshi will be named Environment Minister, in line with the shift of the regulatory functions over the nuclear industry shifting from the Ministry of Economic, Trade and Industry to the Ministry of the Environment. Both Hirano T. and Hosono are part of the "younger generation" to which former Prime Minister Kan Naoto wanted to hand over the government.

I suppose I should be looking into the background of Fujimura Osamu, the incipient Chief Cabinet Secretary, for clues on how he might run the government. I am encouraged to no end that he is vice-chairman of the Ashinaga organization, the group that originally focused on helping children whose parents died in accidents but which has recently found itself working most with children of suicides. I am less than sanguine about the reality that Fujimura has been in the Diet for 19 years without making a name for himself. That Fujimura was a desperate second choice, after Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko found that former DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, his first choice, was, in fact, despised by a large segment of DPJ rank-and-file (How could that be, after the DPJ suffered a string of electoral defeats and Ozawa Ichiro was stripped of his party rights during Okada's tenure as secretary-general?) – I can shrug off as Noda going for a credible interlocutor with the bureaucracy (Okada being an ex-MITI guy) in defiance of common sense.

However, I find I cannot move forward. I am stuck in the past. I just cannot get over Noda’s appointment of Hirano Hirofumi as the DPJ's Diet Affairs Committee Chairman.

I should be resigning myself to accepting Hirano H.'s appointment as a necessary to keeping Hatoyama Yukio happy, as Hirano H. is the close (and possibly only) friend of the former prime minister. Keeping Hatoyama from undercutting the government with nonsense criticisms should be worth the price of having Hirano H. in the party leadership. Coupled with appointment of Koshiishi Azuma as secretary-general, the wishes and demands of the 130 or so diehard Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama fans in the DPJ ranks should be satisfied. Hirano H. is also said to be close to Rengo chairman Koga Nobuaki, the both of them having been members of Matsushita Electric's workers' union. The DPJ has been having trouble communicating with Rengo of late and to have a close personal relationship linking the party leadership with that of Rengo is a definite plus.

The problem is that the Diet Affairs Committee chairmanship (kokkai taisaku incho) is the vital link between the government and the Diet. It is the (let’s call it the DACC, shall we?) DACC who meets with his counterparts in the opposition to decide on the schedule for the bills the government is generating (most bills are government-generated; only a small fraction are generated by Diet members themselves). The person who holds the DACC has to have an extremely fine ear as to what the opposition tells him it will do at the same time as having a constitution of iron to push the government's program through the Diet. Without an astute, sensitive and convincing DACC, the government's programs will run up against a deadlock in the Diet.

Astute, sensitive and convincing are not adjectives that come to mind when one thinks of Hirano Hirofumi. His tenure as Chief Cabinet Secretary showed him to be inept, politically deaf and not credible. The newspapers for the most part have ignored his appointment, as if it were a bad dream.

When they do mention him, it is only in negative terms.

Appointment of former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano as Diet Affairs Committee chairman has been criticized by some members of the Hatoyama group, who state that Hirano, who served as chief cabinet secretary for the Hatoyama administration, should be held responsible for his role in the administration that lasted less than a year.

Some are also concerned that Hirano's appointment may cause conflict with former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yorihisa Matsuno and former Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa, both supporters of Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda in the DPJ presidential election, and Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Akihiro Ohata, who supported Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano in the election.

- Yomiuri Shimbun, August 31

Yes, you read that right: members of the Hatoyama group think that Hirano's appointment is a clunker.

But it gets worse. The Mainichi Shimbun asked around the Diet about prospects for good communication between the new DPJ leadership lineup and its counterparts in the opposition. For the new DPJ secretary general Koishiishi Azuma, there was the feeling that his ability to communicate with the LDP never recovered from the retirement of Aoki Mikio, the don of the LDP in the House of Councillors.

As regards Hirano H., however, verdict was brutal:


"As for Hirano, the assessment was 'he is not the type who can do a proper job of preparing the groundwork (nemawashi).' There is the chance that the solid relationship of trust that has been built up could collapse in an instant."

As for my hometown newspaper, the Tokyo Shimbun, it hinted contempt for the new DACC. The yokogao article of August 31 on Hirano H. (yokogao articles are printed along with a caricature of the new official. Almost invariably they try to show a more human, likable side of the appointed individual) was entitled, "He styles himself a backroom fixer of the party" ("To no uragata" o jinin). It explains that he was so busy in the background building up the party during his service as DPJ deputy secretary general that he called himself “Urano Hirofumi” rather than Hirano Hirofumi, “ura” being the word for “background” or “in the back.”

It is the lamest of jokes.

The article also points out that when Hirano H. became Chief Cabinet Secretary, his purported skills at negotiation and conciliation never made their appearance. Since the DACC has to very publicly stroke the egos of the DPJ's enemies as well making sure he has the full backing of his own party behind him when he cuts a deal, the outlook for Hirano H. being judged a successful DACC are slight.

If Noda's choices for the cabinet today reflect the choices he made for the party leadership, selecting some individuals in order to placate various party constituencies rather than on the capacity to perform (Koshiishi at 75 simply will not have the stamina to be a fulltime secretary-general, leaving Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tarutoko Shinji to do a lot of the late night maneuvering -- which may have been one of the points in favor of appointing a Friend of Ozawa to the position of secretary-general), then we are threatened with a DPJ government that is little more than LDP Lite.

We shall see. NHK is currently leaking names like a sieve.

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