A minor political party that disbanded years ago is still making its presence felt.
In fact, some say the influence wielded by former members of the Japan New Party represents the real power behind the throne.
Here's why. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, along with many of his Cabinet team, hail from the Japan New Party, which, despite its relatively modest size and fleeting two-year existence, played a critical role in dramatically toppling the Liberal Democratic Party's 38-year monopoly on power in 1993.
Morihiro Hosokawa, founder and leader of the Japan New Party (1992-94), was sworn in as prime minister when eight political parties and groupings--basically the entire political structure with the exception of the LDP and the Japanese Communist Party--rallied to form a coalition government.
Power broker Ichiro Ozawa, then secretary-general of the Japan Renewal Party (1993-94), was another key player in orchestrating the historic government change.
The LDP returned to power a year later by striking a surprise coalition deal with two parties--including its longtime foe, the Social Democratic Party of Japan, forcing the Japan New Party into opposition status.
It soon decided to dissolve itself to become part of a bigger opposition bloc, the New Frontier Party (1994-97).
Noda regards the reformist Hosokawa as his mentor. Hosokawa, for his part, does not pull any punches when offering advice to Noda about what he learned as the nation's leader. For one thing, he has cautioned Noda not to keep too much distance from Ozawa, who is no less influential in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan these days than he was in Hosokawa's short-lived non-LDP coalition government.
What is clear is that many of today's top politicians have ties with each other that go way back.
Noda alluded to this fact on Sept. 14.
"I have known Shinji Tarutoko for some 30 years. He knows all the good parts and bad parts of me. That's off-putting," said Noda, generating chuckles among his audience at a general assembly of DPJ Diet members held just before the Lower House plenary session on Wednesday.
It was the day that Tarutoko, the party's acting secretary-general, was going to question Noda in the plenary session on behalf of the DPJ.
Both Noda and Tarutoko graduated from the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, a school for prospective politicians set up by late Konosuke Matsushita, a businessman who founded Panasonic Corp. They both won their first Diet seats on the Japan New Party ticket in the 1993 Lower House election.
Two of Noda's close aides at the Prime Minister's Office--Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura and Hiroyuki Nagahama, a deputy chief Cabinet secretary--are also from the Japan New Party. The list does not end there: Yukio Edano, who replaced Yoshio Hachiro as industry minister after the latter resigned for making indiscreet remarks about radiation; Seiji Maehara, head of the DPJ Policy Research Committee who ran against Noda in the DPJ presidential election in August; and Banri Kaieda, former industry minister and another contestant in the DPJ presidential race, all once belonged to the Japan New Party.
"Back in 1993, new political parties were mushrooming in the hope of rallying all forces other than the LDP and the Communists," Nagahama recalled. "If you wanted to run with no electoral turf or name recognition, one viable option was to run on the ticket of the Japan New Party, not any of the existing parties. The politicians who found success at the time are now of an age when they can serve as a central core of the government."
Noda appointed Norihiko Narita, a professor of law at Surugadai University who served as executive secretary to Hosokawa when he was prime minister, as a special adviser to his own Cabinet.
Hosokawa approached Narita in person to "help Noda" in his capacity of a special adviser.
Sources said that, before the DPJ presidential race, Hosokawa advised Noda: "My proposal for a 'national welfare tax' failed because I did not try to implement it at the same time as I was tackling administrative reforms. You should be relentless in proposing administrative reforms if you are planning to raise taxes."
Noda, for his part, has abided faithfully by his mentor's advice. For example, he has argued since late August, about the time the DPJ held its leadership election, that the minister of state for government revitalization should not double as a minister with other portfolios.
In his Sept. 13 policy speech to the Diet, Noda said: "We will enhance the methods of reviewing government programs that we have been undertaking since the change of government. (We will) make concerted efforts to fight vested interests and to carry out an array of administrative reforms."
Another bit of advice Hosokawa gave Noda concerned the "the right distance" to take from Ozawa.
Hosokawa said maintaining a sense of tension is fine, but cautioned that he should never antagonize Ozawa, Narita said. The collapse of the Hosokawa administration in 1994 was spawned by antagonism between Ozawa, a mainstay of the ruling bloc, and then Chief Cabinet Secretary Masayoshi Takemura.
On the sidelines of the DPJ presidential race, Hosokawa mediated talks between Noda and Ozawa in late August. Noda, intent on healing the rifts within the DPJ, appointed Azuma Koshiishi, an Ozawa aide, as the DPJ's secretary-general and nominated two members of Ozawa's intra-party faction as his Cabinet ministers. Ozawa was apparently satisfied with Noda's choices.
Ozawa reproached a junior lawmaker when the latter talked ill of Noda during a meeting of his faction following the presidential race.
"You shouldn't say such a thing. Noda is quite a somebody, isn't he?" Ozawa was quoted as saying.
(This article was written by Haruko Kagenishi and Asako Myoraku.)
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