The East Asian Forum has published an essay of mine on the reshuffle of the Cabinet (Link).
A few of my snarkier observations were wisely excised by the wonderful editors of the EAF. Unwisely, I will post them here.
Re: The consumption tax
Once the proposed hike in the consumption tax is complete, the tax rate will still be below European value added taxes and in line with Australia's and New Zealand's goods and services taxes. It will be unpopular because it is regressive and reaches out to tap the many elements of society who, though one subterfuge or another, manage to avoid or evade income taxes.
Re: Okada Katsuya
Known by his critics as "The Taliban" for his unswerving views, Okada reportedly refused the position of chief cabinet secretary when Noda formed his first cabinet on September 2 of last year. Okada purportedly preferred to stay out of the limelight in preparation for a challenge for the post of party leader at the next party leadership election, scheduled for September this year. Okada's unpopularity with middle-ranking members of the DPJ, who remember how he led the party to ignominious defeat in the 2005 House of Representatives election, also played a part in his decision to sit back and cool his heels for a while.
Re: Matsubara Jin
The appointment of Jin Matsubara, one of the rare foreign policy and security hawks in the DPJ, should probably be seen a sop to the families of those abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s. The families of the abductees and their supporters have felt that the DPJ has given them short shrift, as the during the 2 1/2 years the DPJ has been in power the abductees portfolio has changed hands seven times.
The appointment of hardliner Matsubara to the main homeland security and the abductees positions makes it unlikely that Japan will make a meaningful contribution to discussions among regional actors of new strategies of dealing with the DPRK in the aftermath of the passing of Kim Jong-il and his replacement by his son Jong-un. Instead, Japanese insistence on a "final resolution" of the abductees issue will continue to be throwing sand into the gears of any proposed shift in policies.
Re: Hirano Hirofumi
As for the appointment of Hirofumi Hirano, it is bald attempt on the part of prime minister Noda to curry favor with the group of DPJ parliamentarians loyal to former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama. Hirano put in a disgraceful performance as chief cabinet secretary during the Hatoyama Cabinet and was ineffective as a negotiator with his opposition counterparts during his recent stint as parliamentary affairs chairman.
Re: Ozawa Ichiro and the Kizuna Party
The two ministers who had to be replaced after being censured, Yasuo Ichikawa and Kenji Yamaoka, are close associates of Ichiro Ozawa, the DPJ's problematic former leader and major power broker. Ozawa, who is both under party disciplinary sanction and criminal indictment, still managed to attract 109 Diet members, most of them members of the DPJ, to an anti-consumption tax study group session he led immediately after the main DPJ party convention on January 16.
Rumors that Ozawa loyalists might turn against prime minister Noda in a no-confidence vote this spring or even form a new party in the near future gained considerably more credibility in the last days of December when nine members of the DPJ with strong bonds to Ozawa left the party and founded Kizuna, a new, anti-consumption tax, anti-Trans Pacific Partnership party.