Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Friends Of Shinzo Cabinet, Take Two

For the first three years of his second premiership, Abe Shinzo surprised many with his restraint and balance. His Cabinets, with a few exceptions, displayed with a mixture of scandal-free operations, diligent policy implementation and submersion of factional and personal rivalries. A deft hand at personnel and calendar management was evident.

Which is what is making the runup to today's announcement of a new Cabinet lineup such a downer. There are too many returnees, too many members of the Seiwakai (Mr. Abe's own faction), too many non-experts being placed as window dressing in posts requiring expertise and too few unfledged MPs getting their first shot at leading a ministry. Most of the first timers will be doubly hobbled because they will not even have a ministry behind them. Instead they will be state ministers shepherded around by the Cabinet Office.

Staying in place are Suga Yoshihide at Chief Cabinet Secretary, Takaichi Sanae at General Affairs, Aso Taro at Finance, Kishida Fumio at Foreign Affairs, Shiozaki Yasuhisa at Health/Pensions/Labor and the Komeito's Ishii Keichi at Infrastructure & Tourism.

Suga Yoshihide is the heart and soul of the Abe administration. Lacking the prerequisites for leadership of the modern LDP and without a thirst for the premiership, he returns to 1) being charge of the bureaucracy, including the recruitment and advancement of the top 600 bureaucrats, 2) being in charge of the Cabinet's work flow and 3) being the chief government spokesman.

Enough for anybody, really.

Takaichi and Shiozaki are Abe loyalists. Both served Abe as cabinet ministers in his first term (2006-07). Aso is something an Abe frenemy. He needs to be kept close even though 1) he cannot fundamentally be trusted and 2) his tongue repeatedly creates controversy.

Entering the Cabinet are Inada Tomomi and Seko Hiroshige. Both are more than mere Abe loyalists: they are sycophants. Seko indeed has played Mini-Me to Abe these past three years (Link), traveling with him around the world, making a particular spectacle of himself in dealings with Vladimir Putin. Both are largely amateurs in the policy areas they will be managing.

The inclusion of Inada and Seko in the Cabinet, combined with the retention of Takaichi and the rumored slide of Abe personal retainer Furuya Kenji into the vacant party post of elections chairman sends a distrubing message -- that Abe, post-House of Councillors 2016, is not in a mood to share with other factions and forces within the LDP. Closeness or service to the party president will be rewarded; all others will just have to lump it.

Loyalty is of course important for rulers. However, so are knowledge and perspective - neither of which sycophants and/or personal debtors can provide. Leadership demands that one restrain oneself, not take all one can, convincing those not in the inner circle that the system has rewards, not just humiliations, for them.

Abe's seeming abandonment of magnanimity and restraint has me worried. Abe put together a similar team of loyalist and fellow travelers in 2006, one which the news media dubbed the "Friends of Shinzo" Cabinet. Their calamitous performances individually and as a Cabinet make me worried about their echo today.

[For my earlier take on the proposed new lineup of the LDP secretariat, click here.]


Ed Neiheisel said...

Two comments. if Abe is in fact leaving in 2 years this might be his last cabinet and therefore his last chance to support his own team. Secondly, one of the LDP's great strengthes over the opposition is that it has so many members who have been groomed thru a series of party, state minister and then cabinent minister roles. That hands on training allows the LDP to have a bench that can govern. We saw what a mess the DP made of it a few years back as they had so few people who have ever done anything but play the role of the barking dog- perennial opposition who are anti anything but if given a chance do not know the first thing about governing. Having 8 people brand new to a cabinent role out of 19 is a bit much but the fact that Suga, Aso, Kishida, stayed in the most critical roles does allow for this process to continue. I do agree that mistakes are going to be made, some off the cuff or supposedly off the record dumb comments made but that is part of indivudal training and bench building in some sense. Personally I would have preferred that Ishihara not have been reatined after the mess he made of the Tokyo Gov candidate selection and process as a whole including that silly memo. He resigned as local chapter Chair but would have liked to see someone else in his chair. Although probably one of these keep your friends close and your .....

MTC said...

Mr. Neiheisel,

The mistake of the DPJ was not a lack of experience or having opinions. The failure came through the impossibility of fighting both the bureaucracy and the remnant of the LDP's ancien regime at the same time. The turn against the bureaucracy should have been Phase II of the revolution, after disposing of what was left after the 2009 overthrow.

You are not addressing the real issues of the Cabinet selections, which are cronyism and the appointment of incompetents. Everything cannot be on Suga and Kishida's shoulders -- but everything is.

Ed Neiheisel said...

Are they incompetent or just untested as its their first cabinent role? Your earlier videos spoke to the huge logjam of LDP members that were waiting their turn. It seemed invevitable there would be quite a few new members and so he ended up with 8 out of 19. That he chose as a priority to reward his own team before other factions can be called cronyism I suppose. But if you were looking at 2 more years as PM and you had this choice what would be more important to you? While I agree that he went a bit far I can also understand the motivations and do not personally see the harm done. Inada san in DefMin is one I worry about and already said I would have kicked Ishihara out from the mess he made of Tokyo Gov. So those two spots should have been filled differently.