In most corners, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito is reckoned to be a pretty smart cookie, if sometimes too smart. Post-March 11, he adroitly maneuvered himself back into the decision making apparatus of government after being having been dumped following the passage of a censure motion against him in the House of Councillors.
Which is whay so many heads were left shaking this weekend when Sengoku on both Saturday and Sunday suggested that the prime minister’s time is up. In language that sounded vaguely thuggish, he warned that “if the prime minister continues to try making efforts, things will not go well for him, will they?” (本人があまり無理に頑張られると本人のためにも良くないのではないか).
In an attempt what appears to be a long gestating plan to craft a grand coalition of DPJ and LDP forces in order to expedite Diet proceedings, Sengoku has been talking to a lot of people, most particularly to Liberal Democratic Party Vice-President Oshima Tadamori. Their reportedly numerous secret meetings seem to have led to the pair to share a nearly identical political vocabulary, with Sengoku saying over the weekend that the DPJ had passed a first stage and needed to move on to the second stage whilst Oshima talked about the DPJ having to ”move on to the next step.” Oshima in a speech this past weekend in Karatsu City declared that Kan has to be out of office by the end of this week.
Considering that Sengoku is a member of the government with no particular charge to be in communication with the opposition (that is the job of the Diet Affairs Chairman and his deputies), his declarations that the PM should resign as soon as possible failed the reasonableness/self-destructive behavior test.
There had to be some catch. Perhaps Sengoku was trying to smoke out disloyal or overly ambitious Diet members willing to follow him in a call for the prime minister to step down. Or perhaps he was trying to isolate Oshima – a man with not inconsiderable smarts very much needed by the LDP – and then leave him to face the inevitable backlash from more militant members of the LDP over some proposed DPJ-LDP cohabitation. Or perhaps Sengoku knew more than anyone else about how fragile the Kan Naoto premiership was, how it could be knocked down simply by having someone close to the center of power declare it was time for the PM to pack it in.
What prime minister Kan has done about Sengoku's statements is what he has done so far to all talk of his resigning any time before August – asiduously denied the rumors. He left it to his coalition partner Kamei Shizuka, leader of the New Japan Party, to bitterly criticize Sengoku, though not by name, as a man waving a sword in front of the PM.
What Sengoku has said over the weekend is sufficient grounds for Kan to fire him. However, Kan may stay Sengoku’s execution until after the very important DPJ general meeting of members of the Diet. Dumping Sengoku before the general meeting will only add fuel to the combustible mixture of anti-Kan interests therein.
At the general meeting, the current party leadership expects to be excoriated by members of the party closest to former party leader Ozawa Ichiro and former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio. These critics will most likely demand the resignation of the prime minister at the very latest at the end of this month…which is ironic because the followers of Ozawa and Hatoyama are precisely the members of the Diet that Sengoku and Oshima would exclude from their grand coalition. Indeed, in the failed no-confidence motion of last week, the unspoken irony was the nearly successful cooperation between the LDP on one side and DPJ supporters of Ozawa and Hatoyama on the other, two groups who most fervetn wish is to dismantle the other’s party platform.
Getting back to Sengoku, there is a fourth possibility not discussed earlier – that he has gone daft. Sengoku’s chief interest is the implementation of policy. With the opposition in control of the House of Councillors, policy making has come to a standstill, even on such necessary issues as approving the issuance of new debt to pay the government’s bills and the compilation of a second supplementary budget in support of the reconstruction and revitalization efforts in the Tohoku region. It is possible that Sengoku has come to the conclusion that if Kan can be sacrificed the LDP will come through on promises of action on these two major bills – that Kan is what is preventing the LDP from showing its reasonable and cooperative side.
If this is indeed where Sengoku’s thinking has led him, then he needs to take a break. Maybe he could take a tour about the country or perhaps peruse the newspapers of a few months’ back (perhaps the ones describing how the LDP arranged for a vote of censure in the House of Councillors against one Sengoku Yoshito) or have some talks with members of his own party unaffiliated with any group. He would come to realize that the LDP as a body has no interest in policy, only in power – in its acquisition and its preservation. There is no soul inside the LDP that a sacrifice of Kan could save.
So the question remains, "What is Sengoku Yoshito doing, aside from positioning himself to get the boot?"