On the night of August 2 before the latest Cabinet reshuffle, Toshiaki Endo, Minister in Charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, kept checking his cellular phone. The media continued reporting “remain in office” for ministers who had received a phone call from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But Endo’s phone did not ring.
But this does not mean Endo’s performance as the Olympic minister has been problematic. The lineup of Abe’s third reshuffled cabinet indicates one characteristic. It reflects “punishments and rewards” for the results of the latest House of Councillors election.
In the Yamagata constituency (one seat up for grabs), Endo’s constituency, a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidate was defeated by a candidate backed by the unified four opposition parties. Although the LDP won the election overall, its candidates lost in all six prefectures of Tohoku with the exception of Akita. The Tohoku results threw a wet blanket on the LDP’s victory. On the contrary, Katsutoshi Kaneda, the new Justice Minister, entered the Cabinet for the first time. Kaneda’s constituency is Akita. The same applies to the new Environment Minister, Koichi Yamamoto, whose constituency is Ehime Prefecture, where a LDP candidate won a fierce contest against an opposition party candidate. LDP candidates won in the constituencies of all 19 ministers in the new cabinet including new Olympic minister Tamayo Marukawa. Her constituency is Tokyo, where two LDP candidates won.
Meanwhile Regional Vitalization Minister Shigeru Ishiba was creating an alarming atmosphere in the cabinet. Ishiba’s supporters within his faction have increasingly called for “Ishiba to leave the cabinet” on the occasion of the cabinet reshuffle.
Abe, however, intended to retain Ishiba in his post. When Abe directly made an offer, Ishiba, implying that he may leave the cabinet, presented a condition. “I might stay in the cabinet as either finance or foreign minister.” In response to Ishiba’s extravagant demand, Abe made a counter offer, saying, “How about farm minister?” Ishiba turned down the offer.
Abe took the next step. The prime minister appointed Yuji Yamamoto, Ishiba’s close aid, as the agriculture and forestry minister. At the meeting of the Ishiba faction held on August 1 in which supporters called for Ishiba’s departure from the cabinet, it was Yamamoto who led the movement. While the Ishiba faction triumphantly welcomed the appointment, some became wary of the development by saying, “Abe is now meddling in the faction’s internal affairs,” which means that the prime minister is “trying to divide the faction by taking Yamamoto hostage.” Being questioned about Ishiba at the press conference on August 3, Abe replied, “Responsibility for the mandate given to the LDP in the last Upper House election remains unchanged even if Ishiba is outside the cabinet.”
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is the leader of the “Kochikai faction.” His supporters were expecting that Kishida “would next take an LDP executive position” to lay the foundation for his becoming the next prime minister.” Some supporters even said, “Kishida no longer needs to be the foreign minister.” Abe, who couldn’t imagine Japan’s diplomacy without Kishida, knowingly kept him in the position on account of diplomatic schedules including that with Russia. Kishida ended up deciding to stay. “For the last ten years, Kochikai members have not taken any of the party’s three executive positions,” complained Kishida’s supporters. “Without assurance about a peaceful transfer of power to Kishida, he decided to stay.”
Tomomi Inada, appointed as the defense minister, is one of the post-Abe candidates. It was an obvious promotion to an important post. Abe’s tenure as the LDP president will expire in two years. Now is a good time for Abe to begin considering his successor; however, it is unlikely that anyone who could exercise the ingenious political maneuvering of Abe will appear. (Abridged)