Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Plot Thickens on the Koike-Moriya Affair

Yasuhisa Shiozaki, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, has put his foot down and refused to allow Yuriko Koike, the Defense Minister, to fire Takemasa Moriya, the long serving defense vice-minister. He told her yesterday that the defense minister cannot be fired without the agreement of the Cabinet Personnel Deliberation Committee, which vets all senior bureaucratic appointments before they are put up for approval by the Cabinet. Mr. Shiozaki also told her that the decision would be made by the defense minister in the new Cabinet, scheduled to be installed on the 27th, two weeks later. It is hard to believe that Mr. Shiozaki could have made the decision without at least tacit approval from Mr. Abe. Committee and Cabinet approval should be pro forma events, but in this case, the total lack of nemawashi before the decision and her subsequent trip to the US apparently gave the vice minister an opening to make good use of his formidable political contacts. Widely rumored to be one of the very few Cabinet members to be asked to stay on, the odds on her demise has risen considerably.

There may be some personal animosity between Ms. Koike and Mr. Shiozaki. The two reputedly crossed swords early in the Abe administration when she was introduced by Prime Minister Abe to President Bush as the counterpart to the National Security Advisor, and Mr. Shiozaki later called Stephen Hadley to remind him that he was the real counterpart. Ms. Koike had accepted a demotion from Environment Minister to the sub-cabinet national security advisor portfolio with hopes of creating the Japanese version of the US National Security Council, so Mr. Shiozaki's interjection must have been particularly irksome.

In any case, the real stake here is the leadership issue. The Abe administration has been riddled with political financing malfeasance and misspeakings, leading to three Cabinet resignations one suicide in a little over ten months. Mr. Abe has been criticized not only for the poor choices, but also for the showing a certain diffidence that allowed these political crises to continue longer than they deserved, appearing more pares than primus in dealing with Cabinet members who were, in many cases, his seniors in biological age and Diet tenure.

Disarray involving his Chief Cabinet Secretary, his latest Cabinet appointment, and a powerful, rebellious bureaucrat: this is the last thing Mr. Abe needs as he tries to make a new go of it with a split legislature.


(Sequence of salient events on August 13)
Ms. Koike meets Mr. Shiozaki during morning hours.
10:45-12:18 Prime Minister Abe meets Mr. Shiozaki.
13:59-14:47 Mr. Abe meets Mr. Moriya, who is accompanied by the MOD Information HQ chief.
18:06-18:27 Ms. Koike meets Mr. Abe.

(Sequence of expected salient events after Aug. 13)
Aug. 15 Cabinet meeting (the twice-weekly Cabinet meetings are expected to be suspended for an informal summer recess before the Cabinet reshuffle)
Aug. 27 Cabinet reshuffle and extraordinary Cabinet meeting (late night)
Aug. 28 Regular Cabinet meeting

There is a certain political logic to Ms. Koike's precipitous decision. If she had waited till September, ditching the long-serving likely would no longer have been an option for her, given that efforts to extend the counter-terrorism act would have gone into overdrive by then.

The Cabinet Personnel Deliberation Committee consists of the Chief Cabinet Secretary and his three deputies (two Diet members and one senior bureaucrat). The Committee vets all bureaucratic appointments that require Cabinet approval, i.e. vice ministers, agency and bureau chiefs their administrative equivalents.

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