Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Odds and Ends around the Birth of the Abe Administration

When the dust settled, a couple of heavyweights that had been widely touted for prominent posts were conspicuously missing from the rolls, Kaoru Yosano and Nobutaka Machimura. Of the two, Mr. Yosano is the more interesting case, since he was at one point the slight media favorite for Mr. Abe's Cabinet Chief. Yomiuri reports in You-Are-There detail that Hidenao Nakagawa, the Mori faction enforcer, was unable to work out a deal with Prime Minister Koizumi, who objected, saying, "Yosano-san leans towards Bureaucrats. Can politicians take the leadership with him as cabinet chief?"

This story is odd to say the least. It casts Mr. Abe in a decidedly unfavorable light as a Mori-faction puppet (messieurs Koizumi and Nakagawa both belong to the Mori faction), letting the big boys make the decision that sets the tone for his whole administrative style. Moreover, Mr. Yosano is a confirmed dove and has been loosely associated with the Tanigaki-MOF school of consumption-tax-raising fiscal prudence. It would have been surprising if Mr. Abe had allowed him to sit on top of the friends-of-Abe cadre that he has gathered around the kantei, i.e. prime minister's residence. In fact, Yosano's rejection looks exactly like the decision that Mr. Abe himself would make on his own.

Then what to make of this tidbit? Perhaps Mr. Koizumi thought he was doing one last favor as prime minister to Mr. Abe by setting a media pick on this one. More likely, the media found the smoke around the kantei (Mr. Abe surely made sure that he consulted all the powers that be, and Mr. Koizumi must have made his views known; running roughshod is not his style), and decided to call it a fire. Mr. Yosano's one weakness is that he does not have his own power base. He lets the opportunities come to him by dint of his policy skills and agreeable personality. Thus, once Mr. Abe decided he did not want him on board, that was it.

I think this call was Mr. Abe's.

I have no idea why the Mr. Machimura was left out in the cold. The telegenic Mr. Machimura seems to be, in his own low-key yet eloquent way, close to Mr. Abe on foreign and security policy, as well as education. Perhaps it is part of what a Japan analyst (if you are reading this, which I'm beginning to doubt, remember, I'd be perfectly happy to cite you by name) whom I very much respect thinks is Mr. Abe’s decision not to put his potential rivals in the tent like Mr. Koizumi, where he could keep his eyes on them, instead opting to leave them out of the limelight.

One other unexpected development is the ascendance of Koji Omi to the Finance Minister's post. True, MOF has been eviscerated when they ripped out the Financial Services Agency, and the general budget, as well as the shadow investment budget (Fiscal Investment and Lending Program), is not what they used to be. Still, it must be a welcome, if unexpected climax to a maverick bureaucrat-turned politician. More broadly, this looks like a manifestation of the science-and-technology-oriented, micro, pro-growth policies that Mr. Abe appears to favor.







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