Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Without an appointment

I was atop Mitakesan (the one in in Saitama Prefecture, not the one in the Tokyo Metropolitan District) alone except for the macaques and the jays, when the Japan Observer buzzed me, asking whether or not we could have dinner together.

"Uh, yeah, ok. Uh wait, let me check the train schedules."

However much I may deride overinvestment in rural infrastructure, such investment comes in handy at times. I was way up in the back end of Saitama near where the prefectural boundary abuts the northern boundaries of Tokyo's Tama Region and Yamanashi Prefecture. Nevertheless through a local bus (I was the only passenger--thank you members of the Diet for the emergency supplementary fuel subsidies) an express local train direct to Ikebukuro and the subway system it was possible for me to make it to Minami Azabu in time for an early dinner.

Now, if someone could only have prevented the construction of that dispiriting logging road slicing through the heart of the forest at the top of the mountain...

View to the West from Mitakesan
Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture
January 1, 2008

Over dinner the Observer and I agreed that the rumored Cabinet reshuffle made little sense, save as a chance to dump Hatoyama Kunio [I agree with Okumura Jun's hint that leaving Nukaga Fukushirō in at Finance is just begging for trouble.]

Newspapers say that the New Komeitō, seeking to make peace with the party's angry youth and women's wings, wants a reshuffle that has Hamayotsu Toshiko replacing Fuyushiba Tetsuzō as the party's representative in the Cabinet.

However, once you have subtracted those three gentlemen and added the one lady, the going gets rougher. Saturday's page 2 Nihon Keizai Shimbun article floating the Cabinet reshuffle trial balloon (floated, one might add, when the Prime Minister was conveniently out of the way in China) indeed pointed out the difficulties Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo would face finding criteria for the replacement of any other members of the Cabinet. Can he ask Ishiba Shigeru to take the fall for the mess at the Defense Ministry since, as a former defense agency chief, Ishiba was derelict in policing Moriya Takemasa's golf mania? Must he ask Masuzoe Yōichi to take responsibility for the Social Insurance Agency's failure to meet the publicly declared deadline of March 31 for the resolution of all the unassigned pension account numbers? Fukuda cannot, unless he has gone stupid, let any of the faction leaders go--the very goal of the current Cabinet and LDP leadership lineup was the lassoing of every faction leader into supporting Fukuda and bolstering the fortunes of the the non-reactionary "liberal" side of the LDP.

As the original Nikkei article noted, Fukuda will have to fire somebody in addition to Hatoyama and Nukaga--otherwise the "reshuffle" will be seen as merely a dismissal of bad eggs, not the creation of cabinet with "Fukuda color."

And who is full of new ideas, raring for a shot at a Cabinet post--and I mean other than the reactionaries, the very people the leadership wants to marginalize?

And if the goal is to impress the public with a new look cabinet, when is the PM supposed to do the reshuffle? Only 48 hours separate the end of the Diet session and the convening of the LDP party convention--and the day in the middle will be the day of the DPJ's party convention.

All in all the reshuffle looks like a dumb idea that got loose when the leadership was looking in the other direction. Like an early election, it solves little--indeed, it exacerbates the sense of confusion and fear within the electorate.

What happened to the plan to let Fukuda be his own man in 2008, when he would at last be liberated from the millstone of Abe Shinzō's having screwed up the legislative calendar? What is the hurry to have "change, change and more change" in the government--is it really just because of a sharp drop in the Cabinet's popularity? The ruling coalition still has the two thirds majority in the House Representatives--why not use it to ram every last piece of unpleasant but necessary legislation through the Diet? When the next election has to be held by September 2009, why panic in January 2008?

Why not just leave things be, for a while?

View to the northeast from Mitakesan toward Kumaya
Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture
January 1, 2008

2 comments:

Janne Morén said...

LDP only has a two-thirds majority as long as Komeito keeps voting with them. But Komeito did not fare well in the last election, and some high-profile issues this year has the party-supported LDP stance and the grassroots Komeito voters uncomfortably far apart. I would not be surprised if they are starting to feel quite a lot of pressure to go their own way to a larger degree than before, if nothing else just to show their base that a vote for them isn't anything more than an LDP vote with a bit of transparent ethical varnish.

So how does the calculation change for LDP if they get wind of a possible passive defection of Komeito? Might be they need to do a reshuffle that at least makes every appearance of accommodating their junior partner.

MTC said...

janne morén -

Yes, but the New Komeito's most powerful lure for marginal, non-SG voters remains the party's ability to squeeze social welfare spending (and public works funds--look at which ministry they have chosen to wrap their arms around) concessions from the LDP. Once New Komeito defects, it will lose its honeypot--there are only just so many times SG members can cage votes from their circle of aquaintances through annoyance alone.