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The Hatoyama Cabinet Changes a Key Player

by Sheila A. Smith
January 7, 2010

In the first casualty of the Hatoyama cabinet, Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii has resigned due to his ailing health. As a finance policy pro with previous cabinet-level experience, Fujii was a comforting presence for many when the Hatoyama cabinet was announced in September.

In selecting Naoto Kan as his replacement, Prime Minister Hatoyama has revealed how much is at stake in the upcoming Diet session. Kan is not a finance pro, and this is new territory for him. At his first press conference, Kan surprised everyone by bluntly stating he wanted a weaker yen, an abrupt departure from his predecessor’s stance. His bureaucratic experience comes from being the head of the Health and Welfare Ministry, and his formative experience then was his fight against bureaucrats in his ministry who resisted change. He is feisty and combative—just the sort of guy you might want to have in a rumble.

The upcoming regular Diet session to begin on January 18 will most likely be just that. The focus will be the $1 trillion budget that reflects the DPJ’s new agenda. Kan will have his hands full as he seeks to explain cuts made in government programs and the new spending, such as the child support subsidy. More daunting for Kan will be answering questions about how this budget will help revive economic growth and create jobs.

There is much at stake in this next Diet session. The LDP is preparing for a critique of the Hatoyama cabinet’s foreign policy—especially its tough relationship with Washington over the Futenma relocation—as well as on its strategy of getting Japan’s economy back on track. The DPJ also has important legislation to put forward on its redesign of Japanese policymaking, including a new administrative reform bill and other initiatives. The curtain goes up on January 18—and the roles for the first time will be reversed. The DPJ will play the role of ruling party, and the LDP will star as opposition.

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