Saturday, February 09, 2013

Keeping An Eye On Ishiba Shigeru

Abe Shinzo should be in the clover right now. His cabinet and the Liberal Democratic Party are basking in high and rising popularity ratings. The LDP's nominal rival, the Democratic Party of Japan is in disarray on both the policy and public relations fronts. Abe's continued striking of poses dear to the right wing, albeit not when he is on center stage, steals the thunder of Ishihara Shintaro-Hashimoto Toru's Japan Restoration Association. Unless a set of scandals emerges to debilitate Abe II the same way the Matsuoka office accounts and pension records scandals did in Abe I, the man from Minami Azabu Choshu seems set to rule this land for a long time.

However, Abe cannot sit in complete comfort...and not for the reason you are thinking.

Despite the heavy presence of Friends of Shinzo in cabinet and sub-cabinet posts* Abe has only a tenuous hold over the party membership. It is not by coincidence that where there are not Friends of Shinzo there are Faction Heads Who See Abe As A Means Of Furthering Their Own Goals.

Abe led the LDP to victory in the December election. However, it was with candidates approved by the Tanigaki Sadakazu-Ishihara Nobuteru leadership regime, which, given Tanigaki's arrested adolescence, means that the freshmen are most likely tacit Ishihara Nobuteru partisans.

In July, Abe will again be leading his party into a battle, this time for control of the House of Councillors -- a battle he is sure to win. However, the new faces and many of the old faces in the races will likly again not be beholden to Abe. Instead they will likely be quiet allies of Abe's second-in-command and rival, Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru.

Abe beat Ishiba for the LDP presidency in a runoff election last September in a count of just the votes of the then shrunken LDP Diet membership. Ishiba had won the first round where the votes of the local party chapters were included. Appointing Ishiba the party's secretary-general was necessary from the standpoint of maintaining party unity. However, from the standpoint of controlling the levers of party power, the move made zero sense ("Appoint the guy I beat on points to run the party while I have my hands tied running the government? Great idea!").

Abe has not been negligent as to the threat Ishiba poses. He has declared, as he did in 2006, the status of the post of chairman of the Elections Strategy Committee (Senkyo taisaku iinkai) to be equal to that of the posts of secretary-general, policy research council chairman and general council chairman, turning the sanyaku into the yonyaku. He has appointed fellow Yamaguchi Prefecture member Kawamura Takeo to the newly elevated position.

Though the election measures chair may now be the nominal equal of the secretary-general, responsibility for the outcome of elections remains with the secretary-general. It is difficult to imagine that the PM or his proxy Kawamura will prevail in a contest with Ishiba over candidate selection.

Those whom Ishiba cannot choose directly he can buy -- since the position of secretary-general also gives him control of the party's purse strings.

One of the major stumbling blocks between Ishiba and greater power, however, is unity of the faction heads and former faction heads in support of Abe -- even when as individuals they have had serious policy disagreements with the current party president (yes Komura Masahiko, I am talking about you).

Which makes a pair of proposals put forth at the February 6th meeting of the LDP Political System Reform Headquarters (Seiji seido kaikaku honbu) most interesting.

The body, chaired by Aizawa Ichiro, a fellow alumnus of former Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko's in the Matsushita Institute of Management and Government's inaugural class, has proposed:

1) the move of all faction offices into the main LDP headquarters building, and

2) the banning of factional
a) searches for new candidates,

b) education of newly elected members of the Diet,

3) financial support for election losers,

4) distribution of party and government posts

(Link - J)
A list to which a faction head might respond drily, "Ummm, anything else you do not want us to do?"

Proposals to defang the factions have been tabled before, most importantly by former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro, and reforms of the party structure have been undertaken that have weakened the influence of factions. Asking for the utter dismantlement of factions, the gist of the above proposals, is a serious throwing down of the gauntlet. The party is only just emerging from its longest, darkest period of relative weakness. An attack upon the party's structure coming from within after a major electoral victory is extraordinary.

While we are on the subject of Koizumi Jun'ichiro and factions, Koizumi Shinjiro (Koizumi Version 4.0), a better, if it can be believed, politician than his father (and so handsome he melts camera lenses), so controls the LDP's Youth Division (Seinen kyoku) as to be a defacto faction leader -- with a base of followers (81 Diet members are members of the Youth Division) that puts him at the front line of party powers.

A rising power that Ishiba hopes, possibly against hope, to coopt. (Link - J)

Not bad for a guy with a whopping two elections to the Diet.

* For a fright, check out Asia Policy Point's translations of the prime minister's daily schedule (Link) for the amount of time the PM spends in the company of Seko Hiroshige, the "Stupidest Man To Ever Serve In The Kantei" until Hirano Hirofumi wrested the title from him in 2009.


Anonymous said...

[I am grateful for readers willing to tell me that I am full of crap (and possibly full of myself).]

I hope you do not think you have some annoying crank reading every one of your posts and sounding off now and then. I really do appreciate your contributions in helping others get a sense of what Japan is like.

Thank you for this blog.

Simon said...

MTC, my Google-fu is weak when it comes to Japanese matters political. Could you expand a little on how Koizumi Jr. is possibly a better politician than his father?

MTC said...

Simon -

Please see my back catalog on Koizumi Shinjiro.

Simon said...

Thank you very much!