Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Two New Ministers For Mr. Abe

On Friday Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, on an official visit to Papua New Guinea, told accompanying reporters of his plan to name a State Minister for Regional Revitalization (chiho soseiso). This comes in addition to his previously voiced intent to appoint a special minister in charge of shepherding the raft of legislation needed to realize the Abe Cabinet's decision to declare the heretofore unconstitutional exercise of the right of collective self-defense constitutional. (Link)

Appointing a minister in charge of revitalizing the regions seems like overkill, seeing as how the function of most of the district members of the Diet has been the extraction of revenues and contracts from the government (i.e., from the taxes on the surpluses created by the densely populated urban prefectures) for redeployment to the areas in chronic, decades-long demographic and economic decline. The slow recovery of housing and businesses in the annihilated areas of the Tohoku has been largely due to politicians being unable to honestly answer the question, "What is the point of resurrecting communities that were dying well prior to the waves washing everything away?" -- because to do so would generate the follow-up, "And how does that make the Tohoku different from so many other areas in Japan?@

Despite the existing, institutionalized transfers of wealth from the the haves to the shouldn't bes, the government feels it needs to at least seem to care about the decay in the parasite prefectures. In large part this is due to commentariat being in a frenzy over the so-called Masuda Report, published by the former Minister of Internal Affairs Masuda Hiroya (Link - J) and his Nippon Sosei Kaigi ("Japan Rebirth Society," bizarrely translated as the "Japan Policy Council"). The Masuda Report claims that the depopulation of the rural areas, heretofore seen as debilitating, will indeed be calamitous. According the projections in the report, hundreds of currently struggling municipalities collapsing by 2040. The key to the new, more alarming projections is the accelerated movement by women of childbearing age to urban areas, both robbing the rural communities of their "baby-making machines" (a phrase for which Yanagisawa Hakuo was too blithely criticized, given that he was speaking metaphorically) and moving them to prefectures where live-births-per-woman are hover at or around one.

Today's 7:00 a.m. NHK newscast, for example, had a conference on the Masuda Report as its main story, this two months after the Report came out.

The other reasons why the PM, the LDP and the New Komeito are worying about appearing to neglect the nation's non-urban areas are the 2015 unified local elections. These elections, no longer unified due to the LDP's self-serving neglect of the county's laws on terms-in-office, will be taking place in April of next year. Though the outcomes are mostly determined by local issues and local patronage networks, the unified local elections will nevertheless be viewed as referenda upon the Cabinet and the ruling coalition. With the Cabinet's poll ratings in decline due to the Abe entourage's poor management on of the public relations push for key reforms to Japan's security and economic structures, local members of the LDP and the New Komeito must be expressing some concern, if not outright impatience, with the national branches of the ruling parties. With Abenomics not having, nor likely to have, any visible impact on the non-urban areas except higher taxes and fees, the local LDP bigwigs are probably issuing ultimata on the order of "Give us something and someone to talk about or we are dead meat in April next year."

The creation of two new ministerial positions will have downsides. The Abe government has heretofore said it will not increase the number of ministerial positions, currently tacked at 22. Adding two new jobs, none of which overlap with the main job descriptions of the current Cabinet, means that some pet LDP causes will have to be abandoned. The need for technically adept and savvy folks in the two posts means that there will be only two fewer Cabinet positions to the political riff-raff the factions will try to foist on Abe and his advisors. The rural revitalization position will come into being without staff members to guide the political and economic adjustments necessary. Rather, it will seem as if the minister will be left on his/her own, wandering the hall of Kasumigaseki looking for underemployed ministry bureaucrats willing to sacrifice a portion of their careers and cleverness to a lost cause without guide stars.

Who also will Prime Minister Abe pick to fill these two new positions? One hears talk of Abe confidants wanting LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru to take the security legislation portfolio. He has the requisite gravitas and knowledge of security affairs. One also hears of Ishiba allies and loyalists screaming that Ishiba will never (and should never) accept a mere State Minister's posting -- especially one where the office holder will likely become the most hated person in Japan.

As for the rural revitalization position, who would want to be shackled to and issue which all the Emperor's horsemen and the all the Emperor's men have failed to remediate, despite forty years of trying? Masuda, himself, maybe. However, his having served as the General Affairs minister in a Democratic Party of Japan-led Cabinet probably makes him ineligble.

LDP Vice-President Komura Masahiko, the architect so-to-speak of the government's rationalization of the approval of the exercise of the right of collective self-defense, is the most likely appointee, this despite his having served in the exalted post of Minister of Foreign Affairs. Another possibility is a hard power respecting Democrat like Maehara Seiji or Nakashima Akihisa whose service in an LDP-led Cabinet would both give the process the sheen of bi-partisanship and terminate their association with the DPJ.

Of course, deciding after the fact that one needs special ministers to take care of issues you had not really thought through before coming to a conclusion on an issue is not a sign of seriousness. Instead, it sends the message that you are making things up on the fly,

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