Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reshuffled his Cabinet for the second time on June 4.
Noda replaced two ministers who were censured by the Upper House and others deemed likely to become targets of opposition attacks at the Diet in coming weeks.
The move, while aimed at meeting the demands of the Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition parties for the dismissal of certain ministers, was actually Noda’s gambit to improve the political environment for the enactment of proposed legislation to integrate tax and social security reform.
During a news conference after the new lineup was in place, Noda demonstrated his determination to push through the reform.
He said the remainder of the current Diet session, which is scheduled to end on June 21, will be crucial to making decisions for the future of Japan. He pledged to do his best to get the bill approved by the Lower House by June 21.
Noda effectively set a deadline to enact the bill, thereby staking everything on the initiative.
But the reshuffle has only removed one minor obstacle to bipartisan talks to revise and enact the bill. It is no cure for what ails the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.
LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki recently described the DPJ’s predicament this way: “How many heads does the DPJ actually have? All these heads move in whatever directions of their choosing, preventing the party from working in line with the prime minister’s will to put his political life on the line (for the reform).”
DPJ Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi, for instance, opposed replacing the two censured ministers. He also angered the LDP by rushing to get the Diet to start deliberations on a number of government-sponsored bills while the LDP was refusing to attend the sessions.
These actions have raised suspicions that Koshiishi’s actual agenda is to postpone the integrated reform.
Former DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa has made it clear he would vote against the reform bill. This is nothing less than rebellion against the party’s policy.
After attending a meeting between Noda and Ozawa to discuss the proposed legislation on June 3, Koshiishi said, “We reaffirmed that we have no intention of making any move to split or divide the party.”
That being the case, there is no choice but to put off a vote on the bill.
Noda did not choose the option of replacing top party executives to coincide with this Cabinet reshuffle. Now, Noda needs to exert more control over the party to push his policy vision forward.
The first step toward this will be to set the stage for talks with opposition parties for amendments to the bill.
Even if Noda wants to get all the parties involved in the talks, it will be difficult for the DPJ to find common ground with parties that take sharply different positions on key issues.
At this juncture, as he said during the news conference, Noda should put the priority on talks with the LDP, the main opposition party.
Noda should also be careful in who he selects for the negotiations. He needs to pick DPJ lawmakers who are committed to acting as his loyal proxies to strike a deal with the LDP.
Noda is said to have told top party officials that he wants accurate and comprehensive daily briefings on the negotiations, adding that he will make whatever decisions that need to be made.
Noda needs to match his words with action by cutting off the retreat and spearheading the fight to get the legislation through the Diet.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 5
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