Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Filling Mr. Abe's New Cabinet

With the record for the longest-lasting lineup in history firmly under its obi, the constipated release of two excruciatingly unsatisfying plans for change (Third Arrow structural economic reforms and reinterpretation of the constitutional ban on collective self-defense) making its days darker, ministers making apologies to the citizens for having voiced inconvenient truths (Link), the first significant death (Link) and languishing poll numbers(Link) Abe Cabinet 2.0 is starting to look stale. Prime Minister Abe delivered what sounded pretty much like a nationally televised hail and farewell speech last night -- sweeping through and over what the current Diet session and the Cabinet have achieved, giving no inkling of what is on the agenda for the autumn Extraordinary Diet Session.

The Yomiuri Shimbun yesterday predicted that the Prime Minister will shuffle his Cabinet in the beginning of September (Link) -- which, based on the PM's press conference, sounds about right. Today the paper has printed an article on the thicket of numbers Abe and his close confidants will have to hack through on the way to that new Cabinet.

First is the faction strength numbers. Now, the factions are not what they were in terms of the grooming of candidates and guides for the approximate number of cabinet seats apportioned from each faction's list of eligible candidates. Still, the Prime Minister has to at least pay some grudging respect to the legacy of the factions -- meaning that each faction will supply at least one member of the Cabinet, with the second place Nukaga Faction, the historical rival of the Prime Minister's Machimura Faction, at least two seats. As for Machimura, he has demanded that the faction honor its most senior underachiever -- a sad sack member with 8 elections to the Diet without ever serving in the Cabinet -- with a cabinet post.

Liberal Democratic Party Factions, number of members

Machimura Faction 92
Nukaga Faction 54
Kishida Faction 44
Aso Faction 38
Nikai Faction 29
Ishihara (Nobuteru) Faction 14
Oshima Faction 13

That last number, 127 members still unaffiliated 18 months after an election, indicates of how far the factions have fallen as institutions. Until the Postal Reform election of 2005, only a handful of Liberal Democratic Party members were independent-minded or obnoxious enough to resist being recruited into a faction. Today, the non-faction faction is far and away the largest faction.

For the Yomiuri, the top candidates for Cabinet posts are party members with at least 5 elections to the House of Representatives (the old standard was 6 elections) or 3 elections to the House of Councillors -- and no previous Cabinet service. Unfortunately for Mr. Abe and his circle of advisers, the interregnum of three Democratic Party of Japan-led cabinets has created a huge backlog in the list of these purportedly worthy candidates. Currently 59 (43 HoR, 16 HoC) Diet members meet the Yomiuri standard -- a major headache for the PM, who wants to keep the number of Cabinet members fixed at 18. With the Chief Cabinet Secretary spot reserved for its current placeholder Suga Yoshihide, the number of Cabinet posts in play is really only 17.

A lot of broken dreams on tap here.

Abe has a few standards of his own he will want to enforce. He will want to have a larger cohort of women in his next Cabinet in order to preserve the appearance of his support for greater women's empowerment. He has raft of heavyweight candidates to chose from: Koike Yuriko, Noda Seiko, Takaichi Sanae are the first to come to mind. Unfortunately all of them have previous Cabinet service -- meaning that appointing them will make no dent in the ranks of the unfledged candidates.

Abe will also want to employ some of his friends and fellow travelers. Takaichi fits the bill in this department. So does of Shisaku favorite Seko Hiroshige -- who has the requisite number of elections to the Diet but heretofore no (Why is this in no way surprising?) Cabinet appointments on his resume.

Abe and his confidants have a long hot summer of thinking ahead of them. The process of selecting a new cabinet will probably involve, if anything, a lot of golf games under a blazing hot sun.

Look for a toasted Abe announcing a new cabinet lineup ahead of the opening of the Extraordinary Session, with a brand new State Minister for Regional Revitalization post enlivening the festivities.

Later - Yomiuri's English-language The Japan News has an article out making many of these points. (Link)

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