The new Fukuda Cabinet-select does not appear to be aimed at a bump in the polls. Nobutaka Machimura (Chief Cabinet Secretary), Masahiko Komura (Foreign Affairs), Yoichi Masuzoe (Health, Welfare and Labor) and Hiroya Masuda (Internal Affairs and Communications) kept their respective portfolios. Of the four, the retention of the oft-criticized Mr. Machimura is the only choice that raises even a mild political eyebrow. Two of the new ministers are actually repeat performances, Toshihiro Nikai at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and Koji Yasuoka at the Ministry of Justice. Former MOF official Bunmei Ibuki is typecast as Finance Minister, although that means that he knows the territory, and that his acerbic tongue will cause him less trouble there than it did as Secretary-General, where…
In a genuine coup for Mr. Fukuda, Taro Aso, the understudy-in-waiting, as Secretary-General, the party No.2, has been co-opted. Not only must Mr. Aso abandon his strategy of enhancing his street cred with the local chapters while waiting for the beleaguered Prime Minister to give up the ghost, and instead help prop up the Fukuda administration; he must also share the blame in the event of a Fukuda or (heaven forbid) LDP debacle.
The other minister of interest is Kaoru Yosano, who inherits the Economic and Fiscal Policy portfolio from the hapless master of the non sequitur Hiroko Ota. That post, like its predecessor the Secretary-General of the now-defunct Economic Planning Agency, is as important or un- as the minister who occupies it. Mr. Yosano is a heavyweight. Don’t expect him, though, to impose the fiscal hawk agenda that we have become accustomed to hearing from him—and now-MOF Minister Bunmei Ibuki. A couple of weeks ago, he appeared on a Sunday morning talk show and explicitly repudiated his long-held tightwad prescriptions for the time being, claiming an epiphany he had yet another two week before. He has seen the light.
Seiko Noda snaps up the Consumer Affairs portfolio. Mr. Fukuda clearly felt that Ms. Noda came with most of Yuriko Koike’s glamour and little of her impulsiveness and tendency to march to the beat of a different drum. In the past, consumer affairs—like the Environment Ministry—would have been considered a for-the-girls, token assignment. The impression does not go away completely. However, Ms. Noda, as one of the Post Office rebels readmitted to the LDP, has to be grateful to be the first of the eleven penitents to be awarded with a cabinet post. More important, she is taking on what will be one of Mr. Fukuda’s two major projects for the upcoming extraordinary Diet session.
The rest is detail, including the other woman in the cabinet and abductees caretaker Kyoko Nakayama. All in all, it’s an effective stop-loss order. But holding serve is not good enough for Mr. Fukuda and the LDP-Komeito coalition.
Speaking of our beloved coalition partner, Komeito gave up the powerful Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport portfolio (replaced there by fading PM candidate Sadakazu Tanigaki, who slides over from the Policy Research Council Chair) for the more mediagenic Environment portfolio, reminding us of its across-the-social-spectrum, non-pork-barrel support base. Which reminds me that it has no ideological obstacle to switching its coalition partner. It will hold all the cards—as Gerald Curtis predicted years ago—if neither the LDP nor the DPJ gains an outright majority in the next Lower House general election.