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Editorial: New Cabinet should tackle challenges to revive economy / Clarify overall vision and procedures for reforms

  • September 17, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 12:11 p.m.
  • English Press

Amid the global crisis of the spread of an infectious disease, a new prime minister has been elected for the first time in seven years and nine months. The new administration must overcome various difficulties and revive the economy.


The Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has been inaugurated. Suga said at a press conference that he would build a “cabinet working for the people,” expressing his policy of implementing bold reforms in each field. The new Cabinet includes many members who were reappointed from the previous Cabinet and there is nothing flashy about the lineup. But it can be said to be a solid lineup that emphasizes stability.


The spread of the novel coronavirus has highlighted a number of issues in the political, economic and social fields in Japan that need to be resolved, including delays in digitization and a lack of cooperation among organizations.


■ Get public on board


The prime minister said that he would break down bureaucratic sectionalism among ministries and agencies, and promote regulatory reforms. This policy is appropriate, but first of all, it is indispensable to present an overall picture, procedures and concrete measures for the reforms. The prime minister should engage with these challenges while gaining the understanding of the public.


As for the personnel of the new administration following the ruling Liberal Democratic Party presidential election, the reappointments of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai were decided first and foremost. By retaining the two men, who supported the previous administration in the Cabinet and the party, the prime minister apparently aimed for political stability.


Katsunobu Kato, who had been serving as health, labor and welfare minister to fight the infectious disease, was named chief cabinet secretary, a key cabinet post. Eight cabinet members were reappointed to the same posts, three stepped sideways into different posts from the previous Cabinet and five were appointed to cabinet posts for the first time.


Former LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida and former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, who also ran in the LDP presidential race, were not appointed to key posts. The prime minister is believed to have shown consideration to them by appointing lawmakers from the Kishida and Ishiba factions as cabinet ministers.


The top priority of the administration is to achieve a balance between prevention of infections and economic activities.


Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of economic revitalization, continues to deal with measures against the coronavirus. He must take effective measures in close cooperation with Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato and Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura, who already has experience as health minister.


The prime minister said that he would expand virus testing and improve medical systems, and take measures against infections with the right emphasis on key points. The number of people receiving PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests has not increased as expected. How to control the coronavirus pandemic by eliminating various impediments to the smooth implementation of measures will be an important test of the new administration.


Taro Kono sidestepped from defense minister to minister in charge of administrative and regulatory reform. He is apparently expected to break through the resistance against bold reforms. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda is in charge of lowering mobile phone fees.


With an eye on the establishment of a digital agency, Takuya Hirai, who has served in a ministerial post before, was appointed as minister in charge of digital reform. Currently, the post is associated with the Cabinet Secretariat, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, among other entities.


How can the digitization of administrative work, which is also relevant to local governments, be promoted? What kind of organizations are appropriate for digitization? The administration needs to present a comprehensive strategy and implement it in a planned manner.


To put the economy on a growth track, it is necessary to redraw and steadily implement the growth strategy with which the previous administration could not produce sufficient results.


■ Redraw growth strategy


In addition to Aso and Nishimura, other Cabinet members, including Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama and Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba, were also reappointed to their posts.


They have a responsibility not only to prevent corporate bankruptcies and maintain employment through the end of the year, but also to shore up the economy.


They are urged to make efforts to provide seamless support to business operators.


In compiling the fiscal 2021 budget, it is certain that pressure on additional fiscal expenditures will be intensified, with a view to dealing with the coronavirus problem and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics scheduled for next summer. It is also important to pay attention to medium- and long-term fiscal consolidation.


With the spread of unilateralism around the world, confrontation between the United States and China has been intensifying. The administration needs to make efforts to build a framework for international cooperation.


The prime minister has little diplomatic experience and some people are concerned about his ability in this area. With the Japan-U.S. alliance as the cornerstone, he should further substantiate the free and open Indo-Pacific initiative.


The security environment surrounding Japan is severe. A task that has been inherited from the previous administration is to consider strengthening missile defense in preparation for imminent attacks from other countries. The appointment of Nobuo Kishi, a younger brother of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as defense minister seems to be aimed at advancing the debate.


■ Focus on dissolution timing


In the reshuffle of LDP executive posts, appointments from the five factions that supported the prime minister in the party presidential election were noticeable, such as General Council Chairman Tsutomu Sato of the Aso faction and Policy Research Council Chairman Hakubun Shimomura of the Hosoda faction.


Sato and Shimomura were elected to the House of Representatives for the first time in 1996, the same year as the prime minister. The prime minister apparently wants to strengthen cooperation among the Prime Minister’s Office, the party and the Diet by placing Diet members whom he trusts in key positions in party affairs.

The focus is on the timing of the dissolution of the lower house for a general election. Aso has already mentioned an early dissolution of the lower house.


It cannot be said that the prime minister presented a broad vision of his administration in the party presidential election. He will be faced with a decision on whether he produces results under the new Cabinet and then seeks a public mandate for them, or whether he dissolves the lower house at an early stage and his Cabinet is subjected to the verdict of the people in order to gather momentum for the government’s policies.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 17, 2020.

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