With the victory in the recent House of Councillors election boosting his leadership, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his third reshuffled cabinet. While his appointments are meant to maintain his predominance in politics, there were actually two major miscalculations in this process: he was not able to retain Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary General Sadakazu Tanigaki and keep Regional Revitalization Minister Shigeru Ishiba in the cabinet. Will these glitches in Abe’s personnel plans affect the administration’s apparently solid political base? We took a closer look at the appointment process.
When Abe was informed of Tanigaki’s cycling injury on July 16, he decided to wait and see for the time being. Abe had told senior party officials in early July of his intent to keep Tanigaki in his post, and his decision did not change at all after the cycling accident.
Abe’s predominance in managing the administration was achieved by keeping the LDP under control, and this had only been possible because “Tanigaki accepted the Kantei’s wishes all the time,” according to a former minister. Abe’s aides had reckoned that “replacing Tanigaki would upset the balance in the administration.”
Yet, Tanigaki had consistently declined to stay in his job after his hospitalization. He had also turned down Abe’s request to meet him in the hospital.
On July 31, three days before the reshuffle of the cabinet and the LDP leadership, Abe gave up on visiting Tanigaki and called him on the phone. Tanigaki still said “no” to the job of secretary general.
Abe openly voiced his regret when he told his aides on Aug. 1 that Tanigaki was firm in turning down his offer.
Tanigaki was reportedly pleased with the new cabinet and LDP leadership lineups when he read about them in the newspapers on Aug. 3.
After Tanigaki conveyed his final decision on July 31, Abe called up General Council chair Toshihiro Nikai in the evening to ask him if he would be willing to become the secretary general. Nikai consented immediately.
Administration officials are very wary of Nikai. After being told about the plan to appoint Nikai in advance, a close aide of Abe asked: “He is known to be an aggressive politician. Do you think it is good to give him power over personnel and money matters?” Abe asked in return: “Then who else is there?” When this aide could not answer right away, Abe said: “See, there’s nobody else.”
The two key persons in the present administration are Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. A cabinet minister says that “the placement of a heavyweight in the party may compromise the administration’s structure centered on Aso and Suga.”
On the evening of Aug. 4, Abe held a party at his residential quarters in the Kantei to show appreciation for the services of the previous LDP executives. Nikai expressed enthusiasm to increase the number of LDP members. He proposed throwing a big party when the number of members reaches 1 million. Abe nodded. According to an official present at the party, no one talked about Tanigaki.
The other miscalculation was that Ishiba remained firm in turning down any offer for a cabinet post. (Abridged)