Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Sense And Sensibility In The Cabinet Reshuffle Narrative, Part I

No, I do not reference Jane Austen below. Primarily because I cannot. I have never read any of Austen's works and I likely never will.

Early (it's 4:30 a.m. local time) news reports are providing the last pieces of the puzzle of Abe Shinzo's reshuffle of his cabinet. Minister of Law* and former Liberal Democratic Party president Tanigaki Sadakazu will take over as LDP Secretary-General. LDP Policy Research Council (PARC) council chair Takaichi Sanae, who yesterday was rumored to be the new minister of economics, trade and industry (METI) will instead be taking over at internal affairs and communications (MIC). The youthful Obuchi Yuko, whom the Yomiuri Shimbun two days ago assured us was on the fast track to the new secretary-general post (Link), will instead be named METI minister. (Link - J)

These latest announcements make a great deal of sense. Perhaps not in terms of policy but definitely in terms of individual temperament and the balancing of the prime minister's numerous priorities in leading both the state and the party.

So, after what seems to have been 10,000 leaks, what are the current projections for the revamped (commentators have asked whether after so many shifts of personnel the word "reshuffled" is appropriate) second Abe cabinet and LDP secretariat? And what can one say about the postings?

First, the top LDP posts, which are to announced later this morning, with women officer holders indicated by a (W).

Secretary-General: Tanigaki Sakakazu
Provides the solution to
a) the need for a non-Machimura faction member in the top 3 (prime minister/party president, chief cabinet secretary, party secretary-general) power positions
b) the need for a high-ranking, seasonsed secretary-general (Tanigaki has been LDP party president and finance minister)
c) the need for someone who will not use the secretary-general position as an instrument of personal advancement (Tanigaki is never going to be party president again and has no implementable political agenda)

PARC Chair - Inada Tomomi (W)
By switching Inada out of the Cabinet and Takaichi in, Abe replaces one revisionist highly qualified professional woman prone to indiscriminate spouting of katakana English management jargon and high tech terms for another.

Chair of the General Council - Nikai Toshihiro
Nikai has been masterful in the all-important post of chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, where all of the government's main business is debated and discussed. He has been marching the government's business through the committee all while giving the powerless minority a chance to make its case or poke holes in the government's positions. Such competence and fairness is, of course, inexcusable -- so Nikai is being moved to the LDP's General Council, which has devolved into the party internal complaints department.

Little mention has been made in the press of a new chair for the LDP's election strategy committee, the party's next highest ranking post. NHK is saying this morning that the inoffensive and managerial METI minister Motegi Toshimitsu will be sliding over into the post. If that turns out to be yet another failed trial balloon, Kawamura Takeo will remain where he is, maintaining continuity in planning for a snap House of Representatives election, if Abe deems one necessary. (Shisaku archive)

In the afternoon, Abe will hand out his cabinet posts. The line up so far is:

Chief Cabinet Secretary - Suga Yoshihide
CONTINUING - because Abe cannot find anyone better for the CCS position, even if he tried, which he will not.

Finance (MOF)- Aso Taro
CONTINUING - because Aso's serving in the minister's post is the least offensive way of diminishing to nearly zero the Finance Ministry's influence on government proceedings. It is is best for Abe to keep Aso near at hand and burdened down, for Aso has been unfaithful in the past. Setting him loose poses dangers for Abe in terms of LDP unity.

Foreign (MOFA) - Kishida Fumio
CONTINUING - Abe needed to sweep the faction leaders out of his cabinet to make room for junior members of the factions. However, he has found it hard to get rid of Kishida, who has both been a fine representative of Japan on the international stage and who has never openly differed with the prime minister on any issue. So Kishida stays.

Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) - Ota Akihiro
CONTINUING - The New Komeito used to demand the health, welfare and labor post because it seemed the best faucet from which to shower benefits upon New Komeito voters and potential New Komeitor voters. Then the party discovered the fiscal charms of MLIT. The LDP's partner has coveted the post ever since...and who can blame the NK for wanting to keep it?

Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) - Shimomura Hakubun
CONTINUING -Shimomura is the lone member of the cabinet who can claim to have grown up in dire poverty. He is the least wealthy of the cabinet members and will likely remain so after the revamp. Shimomura's story is an inspiring one of pulling oneself through study, scholarships and hard work -- which makes him Abe's perfect sledgehammer for whatever independence and liberality may linger in Japan's education system. Shimomura was kept on leash during these first two years of Abe 2.0. He is likely to be let loose now to run rampant on Japan's supposedly "masochistic" education culture.

METI - Obuchi Yuko (W)
Though most reports identify Obuchi-sensei as a former state minister for population and gender equality, her most recent government post was the not insignificant one of Senior Vice Minister of Finance (Dec 2012 to Aug 2013)

MIC - Takaichi Sanae (W)
With Takaichi taking over for Shindo Yoshitaka, one possibly has to call MIC the "ministry posting for those Diet members who pay frequent, ostentatious visits to Yasukuni"

[to be continued - MTC]

Screenshot courtesy: NHK

* The official English translation of Homusho is "Ministry of Justice." However, as anyone who has ever dealt with the nation's judicial system can tell you, "justice" is just about the worst description possible of the outcomes of Japanese juridical practice.

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