INSIGHT: Ruling party reshuffle aims to heal divisions

September 25, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has disclosed a priority aim of closing ranks within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan by retaining Azuma Koshiishi as secretary-general.

“He devoted himself to supporting me,” Noda said of Koshiishi on Sept. 24. “We are both in the same boat.”

The previous night, Noda had begged Koshiishi to remain in the post, sources said. The pair met over drinks at the prime minister’s office.

They had also met on Sept. 21, after Noda was re-elected DPJ president. But at that meeting Koshiishi withheld his decision.

Noda appointed Koshiishi secretary-general as a symbol of intraparty reconciliation when he became prime minister in August 2011. Koshiishi was close to Ichiro Ozawa, a former DPJ president who had been at odds with Noda’s predecessor, Naoto Kan.

Ozawa and his followers abandoned the DPJ after Noda secured Lower House approval in June to raise the consumption tax rate. The bill was passed with support from the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, two opposition parties.

Koshiishi eventually supported Noda when the consumption tax hike legislation was enacted in August. Simultaneously, he tried to keep Ozawa and his followers from leaving the party.

Koshiishi agreed to remain as secretary-general on Sept. 23. Noda then decided to appoint nuclear policy minister Goshi Hosono as chairman of the DPJ’s Policy Research Committee, replacing Seiji Maehara, who does not get along with Koshiishi.

Noda said Sept. 24 he wants Hosono to play an important role in preparing for the next Lower House election.

“I expect him to prepare a manifesto carefully and make our policies known,” Noda said.

Hosono, 41, is a protege of Koshiishi, who sees him as a possible future prime minister. Hosono won popularity for his handling of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Hosono considered challenging Noda in the DPJ presidential election. Younger lawmakers expected him to serve as the face of the DPJ in the Lower House election.

But Koshiishi and other party leaders apparently dissuaded Hosono from running.

Noda also decided to promote Kazunori Yamanoi, deputy chairman of the Diet Affairs Committee, to chair that committee, and to appoint Finance Minister Jun Azumi as acting secretary-general.

Yamanoi is known as an expert on social security. He persuaded younger DPJ lawmakers to support the consumption tax hike legislation in the Lower House vote. It will lift the rate from 5 percent at present to 10 percent by 2015, as part of efforts to fund the nation’s snowballing social security spending.

Azumi supported Noda in having the consumption tax enacted. Noda said Azumi is well-versed in parliamentary and election strategies.

LDP Vice President Tadamori Oshima criticized the new DPJ leadership.

“Koshiishi’s comments have had the sole aim of maintaining harmony within the party,” Oshima told reporters on Sept. 24. “We see no suggestion that the lineup can deliver results on policy issues.”

One DPJ lawmaker who served as a Cabinet minister agreed that Noda’s new executives are inward-looking.

“It showed that the DPJ believes the most important thing is to protect the party and the organization,” the lawmaker said. “Voters will get the impression that the DPJ sees things differently from the way they do.”

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