By Takao Toshikawa, the chief editor of political and economic newsletter “Insideline”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s leadership is rapidly declining following the crushing defeat of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election on July 2.
Under the circumstances, lawmakers in Nagatacho, the political center in Tokyo, are awaiting anxiously the upcoming cabinet reshuffle and personnel changes in the LDP leadership scheduled for August 3.
Most papers anticipate that Finance Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai will remain in their posts.
My predictions are different. In late June, when Tomin First [Tokyoites First] led by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, was expected to become the leading party in the assembly, PM Abe reportedly decided to significantly change cabinet members and the LDP leadership.
Intensive criticism by the press over the continuing Moritomo Gakuen, Kake Gakuen, and other scandals seem to have incited him to shift to an offensive mode in preparation for the expected tough political situation after summer and beyond.
Abe’s roadmap for revising the Constitution remains unchanged: compiling the LDP draft plan by mid-November; submitting the government’s bill during the ordinary Diet session next year; having the bill pass by both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors during the session; and conducting a referendum within 60 to 180 days after proposing a motion.
Simultaneous nationwide local elections are scheduled for April 2019. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike aims to field candidates from her Tomin First (Tokyoites First) in not only ward and city assembly elections in Tokyo but also ordinance-designated major cities including Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sendai, bearing in mind the creation of a community-based national party.
It is still uncertain whether Koike aims to create a coalition government without the LDP or a grand conservative coalition with the LDP. Either way, the upcoming cabinet reshuffle and the LDP leadership changes need to be implemented, keeping in mind a likely new party under the leadership of Koike. At the same time, Abe needs to firmly unite the LDP members because some lawmakers have begun voicing discontent with the Kantei’s dominance of politics. Otherwise, this discontent could undermine government management during the extraordinary Diet session in autumn and beyond.
What would be a lineup of a reshuffled cabinet that could unite the LDP?
Given the current situation within the party, Abe simply needs to give cabinet posts to influential lawmakers most distant from him.
Such lawmakers include Shigeru Ishiba who does not hide his ambition to succeed Abe. It is widely viewed in Nagatacho that Ishiba would not accept Abe’s offer. However, if the post is foreign minister and Abe has a man-to-man talk with Ishiba, the possibility is not zero.
Next is Seiko Noda, former chairperson of the LDP General Council. Distancing herself from Abe, she launched a group to oppose the Abenomics economic policy together with former chairman of the LDP Research Commission on the Tax System Takeshi Noda, former minister in charge of Administrative Reform Seiichiro Murakami and former Defense Minister Gen Nakatani. The group members oppose Abenomics and call for another hike in the consumption tax. Because she is raising a child with a disability, she has paid attention to social security issues. If Abe offers her the post of health, labor and welfare minister, she would probably seriously think about accepting it.
Undoubtedly, Shinjiro Koizumi is a politician well-liked by the public. He strove for the reconstruction of the disaster-stricken areas in Tohoku and fiercely fought against JA-Zenchu, or the Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives, in reforming agricultural cooperatives. By a curious coincidence, it has been confirmed that Toru Nakaya, who opposes the reform, will be elected as the new chairman of JA-Zenchu at the extraordinary general assembly to be held on August 10. If Koizumi becomes the next agricultural minister, it will throw into relief their confrontation over reform, which Abe described as the largest reform in the postwar era.
Although former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, Shinjiro’s father, is against his son’s becoming cabinet minister, Special Advisor to the Cabinet Isao Iijima is reportedly trying to persuade Junichiro Koizumi to allow his son to become a cabinet minister.
Bureaucrats in the Kasumigaseki central government district are paying attention to whether former minister in charge of Economic Revitalization Akira Amari will come back as a cabinet minister. On the night of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, Abe dined with Finance Minister Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, and Amari. It is a known fact that Aso strongly recommends Amari as a cabinet minister and Abe highly evaluates Amari. However, the appointment of Amari as a cabinet minister will certainly invite criticism from the press [on account of his resignation as minister over a money scandal].
Although the press has reported that LDP Secretary General Nikai will likely remain in his position, the possibility of replacing Nikai with Takeo Kawamura should not be ruled out. This is because Kawamura was the chief cabinet secretary during the administration of Aso, whose influence is rapidly growing. In addition, Kawamura is the second ranking official in Nikai’s faction. If Kawamura is appointed LDP secretary-general, then Nikai will be appointed LDP vice-president.
These appointments will give the impression that the cabinet has been refreshed with lawmakers of substance. If, however, the reshuffle will end with just symbolic switches like Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Toshimitsu Motegi trading jobs, it will not help raise the cabinet approval rating. (Abridged)