Wednesday, August 29, 2007

First Order of Business at the Cabinet Session? Balancing the Factions

The new Abe Cabinet held an extraordinary session today (Aug. 29, a Wednesday; the Cabinet meets twice a week on Tuesday and Friday) and appointed the 22 senior vice-ministers (LDP 19, New Komeito 3) in the respective ministries and the Cabinet Office. For the appointees - In the case of the LDP, third (or in rare cases fourth) term Lower House Members and second term Upper House members - this is an important step in building resumes, and they are expected to use the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the territory and the people who populate it, and the bureaucracy does its best to oblige. As a result, they tend to become close to their respective ministries and their jurisdiction.

You may have guessed that a senior vice-minister does not wield much real power. That is also evident from something Asahi points out quite baldly in its headline Deputy Vice-Minister Emphasis on Factional Balance, 22 Appointed as well as the text, which gives the following list:

Tsushima faction 4, Machimura faction 3, Koga faction 2, Yamazaki faction 2, Ibuki faction 2, Tanigaki faction 2, Komura faction 1, Aso faction 1, Nikai faction 1, Unaligned 1.

Note that the largest Machimura faction has one fewer than the next largest Tsushima faction. That is only appropriate, since the Prime Minister's faction is expected to show humility in dividing the spoils. Also significant is the fact that the Tanigaki faction is the only U-16 micro-faction to have two. Consider this an analgesic for being shut out (against Mr. Mori's advice) from the Cabinet and the main party posts.

For even more junior coalition Diet members, there are the parliamentary vice-minister appointments. Expect more of the same.


Anonymous said...

Jun, do you see the Abe regime as feeling itself as being under real pressure? It has taken a drubbing in the recent Upper House polls, and it faces a Lower House election fairly soon. So is the faction movement we are seeing now (a large number of actual faction heads assuming key positions) what happens when the LDP wants to build cohesion, affirm direction, win the election and dominate the political scene again? This development seems to be the factions reasserting themselves after the Koizumi administration. Koizumi wanted the importance of the factions to fade while he strengthened the authority and capability of the executive. That worked for a while. But now we seem to be returning to the old equilibrium. Why is this?

Another question: how are Koizumi's 83 children performing - was there any link drawn between their political capabilities and seats lost in the Upper House? Interested in your views. T

Jun Okumura said...

T: Thanks for your comment. Mr. Abe is under enormous pressure, and it is only for the lack of a good alternative that his colleagues are not looking elsewhere for leadership. From the looks of the Cabinet, he must be hoping that capable, scandal-free (knock on wood), and media-friendly ministers tending to pressing needs will stabilize support at current levels and even improve them, and that the policy debate will reveal the weakness in the DPJ agenda and deepen fissures within the DPJ leadership.

As for the factions themselves, it is clear that Mr. Abe is mindful of them. However, the Japanese media is telling us that there is a lot of griping from the factions to the effect that the right people are not being consulted in making these choices. All in all, he is not getting a lot of respect, and unlike Mr. Koizumi used to do every once in a while, he does not have the popularity or flair to go over the heads of his colleagues to get his way. He was never the kind to run against his party, and he is in no position to do so now. The saving grace for him is that the faction leaders increasingly tend to be more caretaker-managers of increasingly permeable and amorphous fraternities than the owner-proprietors of cohesive and disciplined armies, and thus are not in position to directly challenge him, or impose their will on their minions.

One danger going ahead for Mr. Abe is that too much success for one or more of these men of relative power could elevate their potential as challengers to his throne. They are all in their sixties (Yoichi Masuzoe, whom gaijin tend to like, though not a man of power, is a youthful 58 and the smartest and most articulate of the bunch, but he's an Upper House member and thus is out of the running as such), and would not want to wait another two – or even five – years (two three-year term limit for LDP presidency), and the media is sure to build up such a figure for the sheer hell of it. But right now, that would be the least of his worries.

I don't think that the performance (or lack thereof) of the Koizumi children had anything to do with the Upper House election results. The media's fascination with the sometimes embarrassing but mostly harmless antics of some of the Koizumi children has run its course with little lasting impact on the public imagination. There must have been at least some negative fallout with regard to local support where the Post Office renegades had set themselves up in the opposition and campaigned against the LDP candidates (supported of course by the Koizumi children in those districts), but I am not familiar with the individual races that I can say how strongly this affected the outcome. In any case, you can't blame that on the Koizumi children's performance.

A large number of the Koizumi children have joined one faction or other. Tsutomu Takebe, LDP Secretary-General under Koizumi, has tried to maintain some cohesiveness through the party apparatus, but I know next to nothing about how that is going.

More important to the eventual outcome of the next Lower House election, there's a newspaper article saying that all the first-year Lower House members have been barred from party posts and ordered to concentrate on getting reelected. (By custom, they need another term before they are considered for vice-minister appointments.) I suppose that also means less TV guesting and more wardheeling. And no tabloid appearances, please. Thus, barring scandals, we won't be hearing much from people like Taizo Sugimura and Yukari Sato.