With the flameouts and censures last fall of Defense Minister Ishikawa Tatsuo and Consumer Affairs Minister Yamaoka Kenji, the two close confidants of Ozawa Ichiro in the Cabinet, the cabinet of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko became essentially Ozawa-influence free. In order to fill the holes in the cabinet ranks he appointed Tanaka Naoki, a weak Ozawa ally (and a defense ignoramus) as his new minister of defense and the incompetent Hirano Hirofumi, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio's right hand man, as his minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology -- the latter choice seemingly an attempt to drive a wedge between the underrepresented Ozawa and his ally/puppet Hatoyama.
However, as a part of his promise to be a "no sides" leader of the ruling party – i.e., willing to appoint members of all the Democratic Party of Japan's various sub-groups to positions in the government and the party, the sub-cabinet level senior vice-ministerial and parliamentary vice-ministerial posts were filled chock-a-block with Ozawa loyalists.
So it was not terribly surprising that in what may have been meant as a symbolic action on Friday night, four Ozawa loyalists offered their letters of resignation from their government posts, this after the Cabinet approved the bill raising the consumption tax to 10%. Nor was it terribly surprising that 29 Ozawa loyalists offered their letters of resignation from their party posts over the weekend.
Today, Prime Minister Noda, after indicating he would ask the four sub-cabinet officials to withdraw their resignations, brought the resignation letters to the Cabinet, which promptly accepted them. (J)
One reason given for this change of heart is the demand, made by the Liberal Democratic Party yesterday (before, during or after the storm?) that the party status of Financial Services Minister Jimi Shozaburo and the four Ozawa loyalists be clarified before the LDP would acknowledge the government’s representatives sent to Diet committee meetings. (J)
While the complaints of the main opposition party might play a part in the Prime Minister Noda's calculations, his following through on the acceptance of the resignation of the four is only a means to pretend to follow the LDP's lead when he is indeed acting out of his own self-interest. One cannot avoid the impression that LDP leaders have transformed themselves into the Sideshow Bobs of this process, barking complete nonsense from the sidelines. As for Noda, he asked his least credible interlocutor, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu, to make the calls asking for the four Friday night walkouts to come back.
Accepting the resignation of the four sub-cabinet officials sends two messages. One is to the 29 DPJ MPs who have tendered their resignations from their party posts. The message reads, "Don't believe what the papers say. You're next."
The other message is to Ozawa Ichiro himself. It most likely reads something like, "If you, of your own volition, want to rid the DPJ of your influence by having your people resign from their government and party positions, be my guest. Oh, and by the way, if you have been reading the papers, you may have noticed that the LDP and the New Komeito have targeted your friend Tanaka for a censure motion (E). Considering how much he has done for me and my reputation, please do not expect me to fight too hard on his behalf."