What Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is doing is, in effect, saying, "The Liberal Democratic Party was more correct than the Democratic Party of Japan."
People who voted for the DPJ in the last Lower House election have no place to stand.
Cabinet reshuffles can be considered either forward-looking or backward-looking moves. While Noda said the latest reshuffle was to strengthen his Cabinet, it is clearly a backward-looking one since it was conducted based on LDP pressure. That being the case, the LDP will undoubtedly present a series of conditions to the DPJ.
If the ruling party should accept the LDP proposal to revise the social security system, that would reach the core elements of the DPJ's campaign manifesto. That would, in turn, lead to a loss of the significance of the change in government, and the public would be further disappointed.
The problem is that Noda does not appear to be aware of that public opinion. He is far removed from public opinion, having been dragged along the path of raising the consumption tax rate by the Finance Ministry, which has made that a long-held goal.
While Noda has said that he promised to raise the consumption tax rate in the DPJ presidential election last year, he does not seem to understand that the promise was directed toward the party and was not made with the general public.
While Finance Ministry officials likely believe that the tax hike will be implemented successfully with the LDP drawn into the picture through Noda’s decisions, they should not look lightly upon public opinion that has become much wiser following last year's Great East Japan Earthquake.
Although public opinion was the driving force behind the change in government, it now feels despair because the DPJ has broken its campaign manifesto pledge to eliminate wasteful spending before raising taxes. Public opinion is now shifting its expectations to political parties that represent a third alternative.
Manifestations of such shifts are the popularity of Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. That trend will likely accelerate as it becomes increasingly clear that there is no difference between the DPJ and LDP.
It is still unclear what form the third major force will take. There is the strong possibility that not only the DPJ group led by political heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa, but younger lawmakers of the DPJ and LDP could also join that force.
Someone will likely raise the flag for that third force amid the nebulous situation that now exists.
I believe the main focus for that political trend will have to be the formation of a coalition government focused on administrative reform.
In the world of politics, it is common for declining forces to want to join hands. The cooperation between the DPJ and LDP will be of that type.
At the same time, such a trend can also lead to a clearer field of vision.
If the false hopes held for the two major parties disappear and the public begins to think about politics from a new starting point, that could be a form of confusion that still contains an element of hope.
Having grown disgusted with the DPJ and LDP, the public will view any third alternative with a much more critical eye.
During the 1990s, when New Party Sakigake and the Japan New Party were making major strides, such elements as "new," "young" and "clean" were enough to trigger a political boom. But those elements will no longer be effective today.
That is because while the root of political distrust in the past was political corruption, now it lies in the degradation of the capabilities of politicians.
The stage has gone beyond one where popularity can be generated from such elements as being handsome, having studied abroad or giving speeches in front of train stations.
In the end, the various political parties will have to clarify their stands on such issues as administrative reform, raising the consumption tax rate and nuclear energy--and present their case to the voting public in national elections.
It would be most desirable to have the parties take about a year to solidify their policy positions and settle the matter with simultaneous Lower and Upper House elections next summer. In that process, there will likely be a weeding out of parties that try to represent a third alternative.
What is most needed right now are politicians who will abide by their promises to the public.
(This article was compiled from an interview by Takafumi Yoshida.)
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Shusei Tanaka, 71, served as a special assistant to Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa when he formed his Cabinet in 1993. Originally a member of the LDP, Tanaka was involved in the formation of New Party Sakigake and has served as an adviser to a number of prime ministers since Hosokawa. He was director-general of the Economic Planning Agency under Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. He is currently a visiting professor at Fukuyama University.
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