The Yomiuri ShimbunThis is the fourth installment of a series.
Ever since she was first elected to the lower house of the Diet in 1993, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda, 57, has been sketching out ideas for a “Noda Cabinet” with herself as prime minister. Watching her colleagues’ work and their answers to questions in the Diet, she makes daily changes to her envisioned roster.
She was inspired by the words of former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, now 99. Shortly after Noda was elected, Nakasone told her: “Everyone snubbed me at first, but I’ve worked hard in the belief that I would be the one who would carry the future of Japan. Now that you’re a member of the Diet, you must aim to become prime minister and think about what you need to do.”
In keeping with that lesson, Noda has jotted down ideas for personnel as well as daily points for reflection and personal thoughts in notebooks. She looks back over them repeatedly and now has 25 notebooks, the colors of which have darkened.
To stop Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, 63, from winning reelection without a vote, Noda sought to run in the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election of September 2015. After she was forced to withdraw her bid under pressure from the Abe side and got a chilly reception within the party, she found strength in the lyrics to the hit song “Dragon Night” by renowned band SEKAI NO OWARI: Everybody has their own version of justice. Writing this down in her notebook, she vowed a comeback.
Noda’s hope for the presidential election has been expressed in her recent words and deeds.
“I’ve said that women playing active roles is the first and foremost thing for growth, but the LDP itself has been utterly incapable of doing anything about it. As someone who talks about policy as a woman, I hope to stir up the LDP by running in the presidential election.”
Noda said this at a speech in Tokyo on Jan. 16, where she beat the drum of the “active engagement of women.”
When Abe appointed her internal affairs and communications minister in last summer’s Cabinet reshuffle, she accepted on the condition that she also serve as minister in charge of women’s empowerment. Noda is the leader of a nonpartisan parliamentary group that aims to enact legislation in the current Diet session to increase the number of female Diet members.
Noda doesn’t describe herself as “anti-Abe.” She approves of the prime minister, but also takes a “non-Abe” stance that sees her put forward policies from a female perspective. Remaining in the Cabinet while occasionally voicing her complaints toward Abe stems from her belief that “the LDP was originally a party of many different views.”
On a work trip to the Philippines in early January, Noda brought her 7-year-old son, who has severe respiratory and other disabilities. As her son requires care even at night, she challenged the workstyle reforms Abe is promoting, saying, “The status quo makes it effectively impossible for women to leave their children at home to take an extended business trip.”
The Abe side has shown a generous attitude toward Noda. A source in the prime minister’s office said, “Many people can run [for the presidential election].” Even Abe stalwart and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, 69, has given Noda a push, saying, “It’s good for invigorating the party.”
The reason the Abe side’s attitude has completely changed since the last election, when Noda’s aspirations to run were dashed, is its caution regarding former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, 61, who is indicating a desire to run. In the party presidential election in 2012 — which returned Abe to the prime minister’s post — Abe lost to Ishiba by a large margin in the rank-and-file party member section of the vote. It appears that the Abe side is aiming to split the votes critical of Abe by getting Noda to run.
Noda is already aware of such a move, saying, “If the the Prime Minister’s Office supports me, let them support me.”
Even now, she continues to dine with the Diet members who agreed to recommend her for the candidacy last time. But for Noda, who is not part of any faction, getting the 20 supporters needed to run is still a big hurdle.
Recently, Noda revealed to those around her that, “It’s hard walking with one foot in public affairs and the other in political affairs.” Within the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, speculation is spreading that she may quit as minister after the ordinary session of the Diet and devote herself to preparing for the presidential election.
Noda is also nearly done putting together her policies, which will serve as the basis for a new government policy plan. The work of bringing to fruition ideas she has been sketching since first getting elected will soon start heating up.
Hunger for the ultimate dream
Yasukazu Hamada / Former defense minister who became a lower house member in the same election as Noda
Noda’s aims as a politician are clear, and she has strong convictions. She stuck by her beliefs even though an “assassin candidate” was sent to run against her in a general election in 2005 during the Koizumi administration, as she opposed postal service privatization. As a single woman, she did not give up on her dream of having children despite getting on in years.
What is truly amazing is that she is not under the thumb of influential people and is steadfast in trying to achieve her ideals. The ultimate manifestation of this can only be aiming to become prime minister.
The prime minister needs to have not only passion but, when the time comes, ruthlessness. She was selected as posts and telecommunications minister at the age of 37, and she weathered a rough general election in 2005. Therefore I believe she will draw from her experiences the qualities desired of a prime minister.