On August 30, the Democratic Party of Japan, ably led by Yukio Hatoyama, won a landslide election victory to end more than half a century of Liberal Democratic Party rule. Given the DPJ’s promise of sweeping reform, Mr. Hatoyama’s cabinet selection is significant. Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii, a former LDP member and bureaucrat, has the hard job of downsizing the current ¥15-trillion stimulus package in the midst of recession. Mr. Fujii must nevertheless fulfil manifesto promises on childcare and other social spending; Japan has the world’s highest proportion of citizens aged above 65 and the lowest of those under 15. Deputy Prime Minister Naoto Kan will head the new national strategy bureau, which, in response to public disenchantment with long-entrenched insider politics, is intended to curb policy-making by a hidebound bureaucracy. In keeping with the DPJ’s progressive world view, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada will be expected to work for greater equality in Japan’s relationship with the United States. In particular, he will need to deal with tensions over the status of American bases in Japan and over Mr. Hatoyama’s plans for an EU-style East Asia with a single currency and regional political integration. In addition, the new government has committed itself to a 25 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, in comparison with 1990 levels.
The Hatoyama administration faces other tough tasks. It must reconcile income guarantees for farmers, who voted handsomely for the DPJ, with the promised removal of cuts in rice production, which could depress farm-gate prices further. That challenge faces Hirotaka Akamatsu, Minister for Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. Further, while the DPJ has won 308 seats in the 480-seat lower house of the Diet, it has no majority in the upper house. Therefore, two small parties — the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the People’s New Party (PNP) which hold five seats each in the upper house — have been given cabinet posts. PNP leader Shizuka Kamei is charged with reversing the privatisation of the postal service and persuading the banks to relax their current restrictions on business loans. SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima has a wide-ranging responsibility for consumer affairs, the declining birth rate, gender equality, and social affairs. Mr. Hatoyama’s team selection shows astute judgment and a forward-looking spirit. He must seize the moment and demonstrate strong leadership qualities to justify the faith of a people who have given him such an overpowering mandate that he can have no excuses for non-performance.