The forced resignation last month of Honma Masaaki from the chairmanship of the Tax Commission reminded me of the forced resignation of Tanaka Makiko as minister of foreign affairs in 2002. In both instances, resentful bureaucrats leaked to the weekly scandal magazines details of embarrassing but not necessarily illegal or even unethical behind-closed-doors-conduct of the appointee, all as petty payback for the appointee's high-handed manner toward bureaucratic prerogatives.
While not the full reasons for the forced resignations, the stories printed up in the weeklies in both cases put the prime minister on the defensive, forcing a decision to cut the government's losses after an awkward several weeks of fumbling about.
One aspect of the Tanaka Makiko resignation was significantly different from the Honma affair: the role of the chief cabinet secretary in the dispute.
In the Honma case, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki Yasuhisa supported Honma and his prime minister to the bitter, botched end. In the Tanaka Makiko case, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda Yasuo's serving at first as a sounding board for the grievances of Ministry of Foreign Affairs bureaucrats, then eventually, at least in terms of cabinet affairs, a surreptitious and parallel minister for foreign affairs, completely undermined Tanaka's ability to run her ministry.
Fukuda's transformation into the bureaucrat's informal advocate was an egregious usurpation of ministerial power. Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō must have been furious at Fukuda for having undermined Tanaka, until then the guarantor of Koizumi's populist credentials and a vital political ally. Indeed, after it became clear how much Fukuda's sympathetic ear and back channel dealings had contributed to growth of the bureaucratic conspiracy against Tanaka, Koizumi must have wanted to fire his chief cabinet secretary as well.
As the son of Koizumi's political mentor Fukuda Takeo, however, Fukuda Yasuo had immunity from immediate retribution. However, Koizumi could clearly never trust his chief cabinet secretary again.
When the time and opportunity came, following the 2005 victory, Koizumi rid himself forever of his duplicitous second-in-command. Instead, as heir apparents, he appointed Abe Shinzō, Fukuda Yasuo's great rival in political genealogy within the Mori faction and Aso Tarō, his main rival outside it, to the positions chief cabinet secretary and foreign minister, respectively.
A nice bit of symmetrical reasoning to that spiteful pair of appointments, when you think about it.
Later - Commenter Ross is, of course, correct. Fukuda resigned in May 2004 in the national pension scheme non-payment scandal. As in the Honma Masaaki case (which is what I really want to write about), there was really not much of a scandal there-just semi-comical bumbling by account managers and unwise posturing by politicians. Koizumi was shocked--shocked--at Fukuda's resignation.
Fukuda's ritualist self-sacrifice only confirmed Koizumi's suspicion that Fukuda represented an archaic, almost fossilized form of politics.
The parting of the two must have been moving, perhaps like the departure of Rene Verdon as chief chef at the White House after Lyndon Johnson became president.
Verdon - Mr. President, I am going (Je m'envais).
President Johnson - I am so sorry (Je m'enfous).
More than a few people expected Fukuda to get appointed to something in the fall of 2005. When he received bupkis, he and his supporters found themselves a kilometer and a half behind the Abe and All His Best Friends in the 2006 presidential race.