The latest appointments to various Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) positions reflect the tactfulness of Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai.
Constitutional revision and the ratification of the TPP accord are likely to be the key issues in the extraordinary Diet session convening in September, and negative reactions from the public and the opposition can be expected on these issues. Nikai opted to appoint a neutral person on the constitution issue as the official in charge to tone down antagonism. On the other hand, he chose Vice President Masahiko Komura, a political heavyweight who is in favor of extending the president’s term of office, to lead the debate on this issue, in an effort to suppress discontent.
Nikai’s most surprising decision is the retention of Eisuke Mori as the chief of the headquarters for the promotion of constitutional revision, despite calls in the party for his replacement. Mori is a neutral who had not been actively involved in the constitutional debate in the past.
With the pro-constitutional revision forces securing a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet after the House of Councillors election in July, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now keen on amending the constitution during his term of office. There had been calls for replacing Mori with someone who is more enthusiastic about revision.
However, Nikai chose an approach of respecting discussions with the opposition parties, rather than appointing an aggressive advocate.
Nikai has also retained former Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka as chair of the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution for the meantime. There is talk of former Secretary General Sadakazu Tanigaki, who favors agreement with the Democratic Party, replacing him once Tanigaki recovers from his injury.
Former General Council chair Ryu Shionoya, who is not an expert on agriculture and forestry issues, has been named to chair the Lower House special committee on the TPP, so he will be the key person in the deliberations on the ratification of the TPP agreement in the extraordinary Diet session.
The opposition parties had demanded strongly the replacement of former committee chair Koya Nishikawa, a political heavyweight for agriculture and forestry issues, who was found to be preparing to publish a book on the inside story of the TPP negotiations. Nikai replaced him to smooth the deliberation process after consulting with the Kantei (Prime Minister’s Official Residence).
Shionoya, an expert on education issues, will be negotiating with the opposition in the extraordinary Diet session. He has extensive connections in the opposition parties and has no direct interest in agriculture and forestry issues. It is reckoned that he will be more acceptable to the opposition.
Meanwhile, Komura, whose coordination ability is well known, will serve concurrently as chief of the headquarters for the implementation of political system reforms to work on the issue of extending the LDP president’s term. Komura has long been a proponent of revising party rules to allow the president to serve three, instead of two, three-year terms. Policy Research Council chair Toshimitsu Motegi will serve as his deputy, so two veterans, Komura and Motegi will be the leading advocates for the extension.
It is reckoned that these two persuasive heavyweights are necessary to push the debate forward on this proposal opposed strongly by party members such as former Regional Revitalization Minister Shigeru Ishiba and others who are hoping to succeed Abe. (Slightly abridged)