Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Mr. Aso Goes to Headquarters

The August 8 morning edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun has a front pager claiming that Foreign Minister Aso Tarō will be replacing the disgraced Nakagawa Hidenao as LDP Secretary-General:




This does not work for me, on many levels.

It has absolutely zero appeal for Aso, as it seriously compromises his own dream of becoming Prime Minister. Being Secretary General would leave him responsible for keeping the party on message in support of Prime Minister Abe's policies. Corralling the restive party rank-and-file will be a thankless task for the foreseeable future.

Aso would also have to really work, meaning he would have cut down on the time he consecrates to reading his beloved manga.

He would be in charge of leading the LDP to an inevitable loss of its supermajority in the next House of Representatives election, whenever that may be--which is not exactly the best "last major achievement" in the resume of the person who wants to succeed Abe.

Finally, is Mr. "Alzheimer's Patients Could Understand It" really that popular with the public? An Aso face off against Kan Naoto or even Fukushima Mizuho on one of the Sunday shows does not say to me, "Yowza, boffo ratings!"

So am I suggesting that Yomiuri, the house organ of the Abe Cabinet, is jumping the gun or trying to create a fait accompli?


Anonymous said...

It has been my observation, and it may be incorrect, that once political “speculation” appears in the Japanese press, the actual political decision has been made. Thus, Aso might not be the best “choice” for LDP Secretary General, but he is indeed the choice.

I have noticed that your generally insightful analysis tends to err when you follow patterns of western logic. Another example that immediately comes to mind was your dismissal of a change in the date for the Upper House elections. You were right to point out all the difficulties it would cause, but there seemed to be something else at play.

This is in no way a criticism of you. Many of us Western analysts have this problem of adjusting our perceptions. What, however, do you suggest can be done to correct or compensate for what seems sensible vs. what will actually happen in Japan? One constant of Japanese politics seems to be a certain predictability that is occasioned by decisions of unknown (to the West) reason.

It is curious that if Abe remains PM and Aso becomes SG, then the expected disaster for the LDP in a forthcoming Lower House election would be their doing. A regicide of sorts, you might say.

MTC said...

Mr. Wakeman -

Frequently when a story is circulated by a select paper (in this case Yomiuri, under Koizumi it was frequently the Sankei) it was done so to create an aura of inevitability to a decision that is, in reality, still very much up in the air. We tend to not remember the dozens of failed trial balloons floated each year--indeed, the newspapers count on our forgetting them--but they are legion.

In this case, the Yomiuri, the official mouthpiece of the Cabinet, leaked a story that the decision was "essentially made." In other words, that it had not been made. The logical reason for the leak was to twist Aso's arm on the matter--telling him, "Either take what has been offered you or find yourself a new soapbox."

The Abe Administration is singular in the brutality of exercise of power. As today's Mainichi recounts, Abe intends to announce of the new sanyaku positions at the same time as the new Cabinet. This is a damn peculiar and abusive thing to do--basically telling the sanyaku that their jobs are to execute Abe's plans without offering their opinions--as exemplified by their having no input in the Cabinet selections.

I cannot recall a previous instance when the party president so boldly told the rest of the incipient executive group that their opinions are not going to be considered.

At issue also is whether or not "policy by trial balloon" is conducive to positive outcomes. My feeling is that the results are positive when those floating the balloons are opponents to the central leadership's policy line. Such trial balloons force the ruling camp to justify their policies regarding a given issue. When the floaters are the leaders themselves, however, the effect is to shut down debate, rather than open it up.

As for the decision to extend the Diet session, I will admit that probably its effect on the voting decisions of the public in the House of Councillors election were minor. Still, I think "The Mother of All Defeats" got the big picture right--that extending the Diet session in order to pass a few more pieces of legislation was not going to help the LDP's chances in the ways that the Abe clique expected.

As for the question of "what seems sensible" compared to "what will actually happen,", I cannot model the stupidity, mendacity, self-delusion and laziness of others...nor would I want to, as decisions made upon the above principles soon come to naught.