The new Cabinet lineup is out and it is remarkably better than the one it replaces (I am most definitely not thrilled with your staying on, Ibuki-san).
My fear was that at best the Cabinet was going to be a faction-leaders-only collectivity, a stolid, unimaginative "at very least these old farts will not lose us the next election" kind of leadership council.
Instead we have some incredibly bright folks with clean records getting their hands on the tiller of government.
The biggest and best surprise is Yosano Kaoru as Chief Cabinet Secretary. He is the complete package--brilliant and patient to a fault (7th dan in Go), a Representative from a purely urban district (Tokyo #1), with all the right hobbies (computers, amateur astronomy, photography and...oh well, nobody's perfect...golf) with tons of Cabinet and economic policy experience. He also has known failure, first for being a Yosano (your grandmother was the greatest poet of her age--so what have you done with your life?) and second through electoral humiliation--Kaeda Banri having evicted him from his seat for a few cycles.
Beholden to no one, not even his great benefactor Koizumi Jun'ichirō with whom he struggled over fiscal policy, Yosano will likely be a quiet, behind-the-scenes operator. That Yosano is so much smarter than the PM will be a problem only if the PM tries to pull rank. His intelligence was certainly one of the reasons he was shut out of a Cabinet position last fall.
Yosano's demeanor and mastery of detail will also serve him well in his daily sessions with the press--think a Fukuda Yasuo but with more knowledge and less attitude.
Kōmura Masahiko is an inspired choice as Minister of Defense. A brilliant legal mind, he will be able to answer questions about the constitutional limits on the SDF in his sleep. His mere presence will raise the average IQ inside the gates of Ichigaya by 10 points. A China dove, he will almost certainly force a change in tone in the next White Paper--should the government last long enough. Sadly for the bureaucrats of the Defense Ministry, Kōmura will expect them to work--something they may find they are not used to doing very much of. Inheritor of the foreign-policy oriented Kōmoto Faction, Kōmura even looks like a minister.
In a chess game, moving a piece back to where it was before is usually a sign you do not know what the hell you are doing. However, Abe has probably made a smart move in putting his faction's leader Machimura Nobutaka in at the Foreign Ministry. With Yosano and Kōmura controlling two legs of the foreign policy triumvirate (METI is not what MITI was) Abe will have at least one person not intent on reminding at every moment how dumb he is, relatively speaking.
Having Nukaga Fukushirō as Minister should give the usually unbearably self-confident Finance Ministry guys a very necessary case of the willies. Nukaga is the master of disaster--wherever he lands, a huge, shattering scandal is uncovered. Nukaga then resigns, while his nominal underlings go to jail.
Start practicing your alibies now, guys. (It could not happen to a nicer bunch of folks, really.)
I am sure that Masuzoe Yōichi is just thrilled to be the one who has to clear out the Augean Stables of the National Pension Accounts problem over at the Social Insurance Agency.
See where complaining about the Prime Minister's performance can get you?
The only side benefit--Masuzoe gets to smack upside the head the nitwits who allowed the pension accounts problems to fester and grow. Or so I have heard.
Having Hatoyama Kunio at Justice--a comedian's dream.
First thought: "naked pool parties!"
But there is no fountain in front of the Justice building. Bummer.
Second though: "Vice Minister Terry Itō!"
Damn, has to be a career bureaucrat!
Whatever happens (Amaterasu save me, Kunio will be signing death warrants!) Hatoyama will have to really cut down on his post-midnight TV appearances.
I have not looked at the others--I will await the little kaobure articles with the cartoon caricatures that will come out in tomorrow morning's papers.
Nevertheless, my overall impression is that Abe has selected a fairly capable crowd of folks.
Later - It would be wrong to not highlight the selection of former Iwate Prefecture Governor Masuda Hiroya (what a silly and fun "Under Construction" message on his webpage!) as Minister of Internal Affairs. A protégé of Ozawa Ichirō's, he will be expected to line up against his old patron and send him twisting into the dust. One of the most prominent of the "reform governors" Masuda has had to make the hard decisions at the prefectural level. If anyone will find the means and the words to sell reform to the rural districts, it will be him.
Take that Ozawa-san! See how long people hang around for your sweet seductive songs of subsidy now!