Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What Abe Shinzo needs is a Cabinet

But exactly what kind of Cabinet?

From the names that have been floated so far for ministerial and sanyaku posts--Aso Tarō, Nikai Toshihiro, Kōmura Masahiko, Machimura Nobutaka, Niwa Yūya, Nakagawa Shōichi--candidacy for Cabinet and top party posts seems limited to faction and political group leaders.

Hence the following cartoon:

Courtesy: Mainichi Shimbun
August 21, 2007

Abe Shinzō is sitting and fishing on and Aso Tarō clinging to a life ring. In the background the ship "Friends of Shinzō" sinks beneath the waves. The name on the life ring read kyotōtaisei ("the unification of the party"). Hoping to survive while perched upon the life ring of party unity, Abe fishes (tsuru, which also means to go in search of) for a jinshin isshin -- a revival in the public opinion's. Ozawa Ichirō and Kan Naoto, rather better situated for their survival at sea, laugh. Ozawa wonders whether or not Abe will actually pull up a jinshin hanshin -- half-human (the public's mind), half-faction monster.

While seriously unfunny, the cartoon does point out an possibly unavoidable looming disaster for the LDP. Abe selected his first Cabinet all by his lonesome, at least as lonesome as one can be in a villa by the shores of Lake Kawaguchi (photo courtesy: MTC).

This time around Abe is not even in the country--his underlings and allies are making the rounds, cutting the deals with the LDP faction heads and the Komeitō. With the grand themes of the selection process being "let us bring feuding factions of the party together" and "no more 'Friends of Shinzō' cabinets", one freakish possibility is an "Enemies of Shinzō" Cabinet, half-filled with older and peer-level returnees like Nakagawa, Niwa and Aso and half with resentful older Diet members who have felt a lack of sufficient respect emanating from Abe and his band of youngish ideologues. Machimura could take pity on his former faction mate and serve as tie-breaker/peacemaker--but I would not be surprised at Machimura's thinking he could probably be a heck of a better PM than Abe.

Even if the "let us unify the party" selection process does not end up with a hung and feuding Cabinet, the advent of a purely LDP-Komeitō Cabinet following July's electoral wipeout and current polls will be an open invitation for the DPJ and its allies to block or stall every piece of legislation sent to the House of Councillors.

The selectors of the second Abe Cabinet have a strong incentive to craft a Cabinet of national unity--either by handing out a lot of posts to non-politicians, or as Nakagawa Hidenao and the Yomiuri Shimbun have suggested, extending a limp and unenthusiastic invitation to the Democratic Party to provide a number of ministers to the next Cabinet (my guess would be a minimun of three, maximum of four).

The Japan Observer has already offered his view of the likelihood of such an offer being accepted.

Given the moribund status of other ways of selecting a cabinet--the liberal economic reform model (Koizumi), the sharing-out according to seniority and factional strength model (1960-2001 LDP), the conservative backlash model (Abe I)--offering the DPJ a junior position is not necessarily such a bad idea.

Who knows, in return for a vague and possibly insincere promise of automatic elevation to the position of premier-in-waiting, Ozawa (whose biological clock is ticking loudly) might just go for it. At very least, he could hold Abe on tenderhooks, always threatening to pull out of the coalition, forcing Abe and the LDP to concede on a raft of legislation while restoring his battered image of a can-do reformer.

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