Japan: Daughter of Former PM Appointed Education Minister

The daughter of the late Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka has been appointed the country’s minister of education during a cabinet reshuffle that took place last week.

Many speculate that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who has been experiencing some setbacks in the polls, picked Makiko Tanaka because her widespread popularity might lend some glamour to the ailing administration — which could be leveraged to make it easier for Noda to implement his educational agenda.

Her qualifications for the ministerial post are shaky, but her skills as a politician are well established. She is an exceptional and engaging public speaker, and many credit her stump speeches for Junichiro Koizumi’s come from behind win in the contest to head up the ruling party leadership and the for post of Prime Minster in 2001. Her reward was an appointment as Koizumi’s foreign minister, but some accused her abrasive personality of creating conflict in the diplomatic corps and she was dismissed after less than a year on job.

The internal bickering played out in public, with Ms. Tanaka calling the ministry an “abode of demons,” while bureaucrats accused her of being “authoritarian.” The drama ended with Ms. Tanaka weeping in front of TV cameras, pleading to reporters gathered in the corridors of parliament that “she had done her best.”

Although she should be far away from foreign policy in her current posting, some think that her father’s warm relationship with Beijing did have an impact on her appointment. Although a series of financial scandals eventually ended the government of Tanaka the elder, his contributions to the normalization of the relationship with China led to a nickname of “old friend” being bestowed on him by political operatives in Beijing. To mark this connection, Maikiko Tanaka was one of the few Japanese dignitaries who attended the 40th anniversary commemoration of the normalization of ties between the two countries. This has led to speculation that her appointment could be an attempt to ease recent tensions with China.

Her husband, Naoki Tanaka, was briefly defense minister under Mr. Noda, and created headaches for the prime minister after repeatedly making gaffes, inviting charges that he was a novice in security issues. He was censured by the opposition-controlled upper house of parliament, and left the cabinet in a subsequent reshuffle in June.

Although Tanaka’s political career formally began after she was elected as a delegate to the Lower House in 1993 – the year her father died — she had been around the government all her life, even serving as the first lady during her father’s premiership once her mother became too ill to perform the duty.