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Japan Diary

September 3, 2011

It is time to remember Japanese prime minister's name

Dear friends, we are happy to announce that we again remodeled our government with a new prime minister. The new one's name is Mr. Noda, short enough for easy memory. He is the third prime minister after the Democratic Party took power in 2009 (one year thereafter they lost the majority in the Upper House, creating a grid-lock situation). But he may stay longer. Many Japanese have a feeling of relief after two very populist prime ministers; Noda, although he does not look handsome, but he seems to be more reliable. Well, they (including myself) may be right this time. Mr. Noda holds black belt in Judo.

Balance, predictability and less populism
You may use three buzzwords in describing Noda: balance, predictability and less populism.

1. Balance
He looks sullen, and you may not like him. At least I did not. But the more you get to know about him, the more you begin to appreciate him. His predecessors, Hatoyama and Kan, are very volatile politicians, changing their position very often simply to cater any change in social opinion. I talked to one cab driver yesterday and asked about his opinion on Noda. He said right away, "Noda is OK. I feel relieved. Mr. Kan was always and only thinking about himself." I agree with him.

Mr. Noda's power in the Democratic Party is not absolute, but it is based on equilibrium of power among major intra-party groupings. Mr. Kan antagonized Mr. Ozawa's faction (most numerous) too much, and that made Kan's power shaky.
Noda is supported by all groupings in the party, Ozawa inter alia (and Ozawa needs Noda's favor, too, because his position was weakened when "his candidate" was defeated by Noda in the election for DPJ's chairmanship). Noda's cabinet posts are wisely distributed to each grouping, and so far there is no grievance.

(The approximate number (parliamentarians) in each intra-party grouping is: Ozawa 130, Kan 50, Maebara 50, Hatoyama 40, former Democratic Socialist Party members 40, former Socialist Party members 30, Noda 30 and Tarutoko 20 (from Nikkei on Aug.31))

2. Predictability
Noda listens well to advices of the bureaucrats, and this will make his rule predictable and consistent (in some cases boring). He knows that new policies can be launched only after a good coordination within and outside of his party and the government.

The new minister for foreign affairs Mr. Genba is a close follower of Noda. He will not go against Noda's policy, which will be very orthodox--close alliance with the U.S.as first priority, friendly close relationship with China, close cooperation with South Korea, ASEAN countries, India and Australia, and so on, so forth. Mr. Maebara, former minister for foreign affairs, may intervene in foreign policy with his flamboyant style, but he will hardly disrupt the mainstay of Japan's foreign policy.

3. Less populism
For the recent 20 years Japan's GDP has not grown. People have been trying to find the culprit who should be blamed for all mishaps, and the media played on this sentiment. All this constituted a scaffold on which Japanese prime ministers are annually beheaded--a quintessential populism. That is why Noda's predecessors, Hatoyama and Kan, tried very hard to cater to the voices in the society.
Now people finally learned (the earthquake and tsunami last March worked as wake-up call): frequent change on the top does no good to their life. And if that is the case, the media will become careful in playing on criticism of Mr. Noda.

How long can he hold?
If any major scandal does not break out, he can stay in power at least until next September, when his Democratic Party elects next Chairman. If Noda be reelected as next chairman, he can stay in power even after next September.
Meanwhile, the former ruling party Liberal Democratic Party (and perhaps even Noda's rival in DPJ Mr.Maebara) will endeavor to create a difficult situation to force an early general election (at the latest it should be held in summer 2013). They have to heed, however, the populace is now very eager to see concrete jobs done in the Parliament and the government. Whoever disrupts this out of self-interest will be accused.
In 2012 leaders in many countries and regions will be replaced or face election: the U.S., China, France, Russia, South Korea and Taiwan. So, who can tell? Perhaps, Mr. Noda may soon become one of the most senior incumbent leaders in the world. His name is worth being remembered.


Author: John A. Shane | September 5, 2011 5:48 AM

Kawata-san: Thank you for once again providing me with a very valuable background on a critical Japanese political issue. I wish Noda-san well. Best regards. John A. Shane

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