Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The New Abe Lineup At Party Central

In few hours Prime Minister Abe Shinzo will unveil his new lineup for the top party posts of the Liberal Democratic Party and a new Cabinet. From hints that have been leaked to the new agencies so far, Abe seems to be proceeding on the assumption that loyalty and closeness to him, not competence, experience or judgment, should be his main selection criteria.

LDP Party Secretariat

Replacing the seriously injured Tanigaki Sadakazu at Secretary-General will be Nikai Toshihiro. Leader of a medium-sized faction, Nikai was long seen as a potential rival of the Prime Minister. During his stint as chairman of the Diet Budget Committee Nikai was extremely solicitous of opposition members pounding away at the Abe government and the prime minister himself. In the last year or so, however, Abe has made a special effort to woo Nikai, kicking him upstairs into the special post of Chairman of the General Council and visiting him in his home district. The Wakayama legislator has reciprocated with pledges of loyalty and friendship, the most dramatic of which was his recent post-election expression of support for an extension of Abe's presidential term past the party rules-determined 6 years.

[For those with issues as regards Japan's killing of cetaceans, it's panic time. The whaling fleet's mother ship is homeported in Abe's district. The Taiji dolphin-killing "cove" is in Nikai's.]

The appointment of Nikai means that once again the LDP's day-to-day management will be in the hands of a politician with links to China. Tanigaki's ties were largely emotional, his affection for Chinese poetry being one of his remarked-upon traits. Nikai's ties, however, are much more nuts-and-bolts. He is probably the active legislator with the deepest and broadest network of ties with officials and politicians of China. His appointment will likely both please and pain the CCP. If Nikai asks to come across the water and meet with a few old friends, how can the Chinese government refuse?

Ostensibly keeping an eye on Nikai will be Hosoda Hiroyuki, who will take over Nikai's chairmanship of the LDP General Council. Hosoda is the leader of the Seiwakai, the largest faction and the faction to which Abe belongs. It is a measure of Abe's respect for and wariness of Nikai that he has asked his faction leader to step in and run the party’s main meetings.

Moving out of her party position of policy chief and into the Cabinet is Inada Tomomi, a protégé of the Prime Minister's and a fellow Seiwakai member. She will be taking over the defense portfolio – a symbolic, not substantive choice, as Inada has heretofore not been seen as taking a particular interest in defense issues (her own interests can be gleaned from the name of her personal Diet member group, "The Tradition and Innovation Association"). She is also something of an arriviste in party circles, having only served four terms in the Diet. She will be leapfrogging over some 70 LDP legislators who 1) have more elections to the Diet than her and 2) have never served in a Cabinet post.

Taking over her spot as chairman of the Policy Research Council and rising ever so slightly in party rank will be Motegi Toshimitsu. Motegi was the chairman of the party's elections strategy committee and thus nominally the architect of the party's wins in the Hokkaido #5 by-election and the July 10 House of Councillors election this year. However, since the LDP is fighting what is still a prostrate and disarmed opposition, Motegi's actual motivational and organizational strengths remain in question.

Motegi seems to be one of Abe's most important cultivated allies. The Harvard master's degree holder and former McKinsey consultant is a frequent guest and golf partner of the PM. He also has as many elections to the Diet (8) as the PM. Motegi would seem a possible a dark horse candidate to step in to the premiership, should the PM need to suddenly step down. However, Motegi did not start out his political career in the LDP, having first won his seat as a member of the opposition Japan New Party (Nihon Shinto).

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