Kan He Do It?
July 8, 2010
Despite a recent decline, approval for Naoto Kan’s government and the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has increased substantially since Yukio Hatoyama resigned on June 2. This is good news for the DPJ given this Sunday’s House of Councillors election. It is premature to predict the long-term success of the Kan administration, but it is possible to pass judgment on his initial actions and offer some recommendations based on the lessons learned from his predecessor’s failure.
Support for Kan’s administration has begun strong. Much of this can be attributed to his popular image as a civic activist. Also, unlike his immediate predecessors, Kan is not a second or third-generation politician. He is also the first premier since Tomiichi Murayama who did not begin his political career in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). All this makes Kan look different. Yet, retaining 11 ministers (of 17) makes Kan’s cabinet look strikingly similar to Hatoyama’s. Still, the few changes Kan made are significant.
Kan’s choice of Yoshito Sengoku as chief cabinet secretary is a vast improvement over Hirofumi Hirano. Hirano was dysfunctional, unable to harmonize disparate opinions within the cabinet. Given that Sengoku is a policy expert who helped Hatoyama’s budget screening process, he is regarded as having the political ability to coordinate diverse opinions. As such, Kan has taken a positive step toward establishing coherence in his cabinet, thereby strengthening the ability of the premier to lead. At the same time, Sengoku has extensive connections inside the DPJ, particularly with those who distance themselves from former secretary general Ichiro Ozawa. This is important because Kan chose to retain (Katsuya Okada, Seiji Maehara) and appoint (Yoshihiko Noda) many of these men to government posts.