(Themis: November 2015 – pp. 14-15)
Katsunobu Kato, minister for promoting the dynamic engagement of all citizens, is a close family friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He was put in charge of formulating policies for the “second stage of Abenomics,” taking advantage of his strong influence over the bureaucracy as the previous chief of the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs.
Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy Akira Amari will take charge of economic policy with regard to economic growth, while Kato is expected to be responsible for social security policy in the run-up to the House of Councillors election next summer.
Kato has long been involved with health, labor and welfare issues. He once served as director of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Health, Labor, and Welfare Division and has expertise in social welfare policy, as well as strong connections with LDP Diet members specializing in these issues. Abe hopes that he makes use of his extensive connections in the bureaucracy to come up with substantial policies. If Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is known for taking a “carrot and stick” approach to the bureaucrats, Kato is said to be good at “winning their hearts.”
Another hidden motive in Kato’s appointment is to restrain Abe’s political foe, Minister for Regional Revitalization Shigeru Ishiba. Kato’s and Ishiba’s ministries overlap considerably with regard to welfare policies for the regions, for instance, but bureaucrats are more likely to listen to Kato, who is close to the Prime Minister. Abe is using a close confidant to weaken Ishiba’s political clout.
Kato enjoys Abe’s complete trust. There have been rumors that Abe had thought of appointing him as chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, whose power is equivalent to that of several cabinet ministers put together, during his recent reshuffle of the cabinet and the LDP leadership. For now, Tomomi Inada, who Abe regards as a future candidate for prime minister, is keeping this job, but a source at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence says that “Kato is better as a steady pair of hands and in coordination ability with the ministries.”
However, Kato’s portfolio is largely ill-defined. If he is unable to come up with viable policies that will contribute to the LDP’s victory in the next Upper House election, he will end up a mere “buddy” of the Prime Minister. (Summary)