By Takashi Fukukawa and Masahiro Tateno
The latest cabinet reshuffle and leadership change in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) implemented by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (also the LDP president) clearly reveal that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga carries great influence. Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Isshu Sugawara and Minister of Justice Katsuyuki Kawai, who are both Suga’s close aides and not affiliated with an LDP faction, assumed cabinet posts for the first time. Suga also directly tapped Shinjiro Koizumi to serve as minister of the environment. This appointment was the centerpiece of the latest reshuffle. Five out of the six unaffiliated legislators who were appointed state ministers or parliamentary vice-ministers belong to groups that support Suga. As a result, “groups under Suga’s influence and that have no faction affiliation” have become as large as key LDP factions.
“We have the right people in the right places,” said Suga at a press conference held on Sept. 13 after the cabinet decided the appointments of state ministers and parliamentary vice-ministers. An informed source connected with the LDP analyzed the reshuffle, saying, “Suga is gaining in influence.”
In April, trade minister Sugawara launched the “Reiwa-no-kai” (Reiwa group), which is comprised of unaffiliated lawmakers who support Suga. Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Yayoi Kimura (elected to the House of Representatives twice) and Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Hanako Jimi (elected to the House of Councillors for the first time in 2016) were also appointed from the Reiwa group.
There is also the “Ganesha-no-kai” (Ganesha group), a group of unaffiliated junior legislatures who support Suga. State Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hideki Makihara and State Minister of Defense Tomohiro Yamamoto were appointed from this group. Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Masamune Wada was appointed from a group of junior Upper House members who support Suga.
There are three cabinet ministers under “Suga’s influence,” including Suga himself and excluding Koizumi. This is equivalent to the number of cabinet ministers from the Hosoda faction, the largest in the LDP, and the Aso faction, the second largest. A total of eight lawmakers from groups that support Suga were appointed to the three highest positions in a ministry (i.e., minister, state minister and parliamentary vice-minister). This is the third highest number after the two largest LDP factions. A former parliamentary vice-minister said, “I was appointed to one of the three highest posts in my ministry thanks to Mr. Suga.” This indicates that Suga has influence in personnel affairs even though he is unaffiliated. As a strong candidate to serve as prime minister in the “post-Abe” era, Suga is steadily increasing his influence in the administration.
Cabinet approval ratings stable
By Nozomu Takeuchi
Following the cabinet reshuffle on Sept. 11, media outlets conducted opinion polls. Cabinet approval ratings were stable at around 50% across the board.
In the poll conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun, the cabinet approval rating was 50%, up by 10 percentage points from the previous poll in June. This was the largest jump among the polls. “The people have high hopes for the cabinet, and the opinion polls well reflect that,” said LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai at a press conference on Sept. 17. Approval ratings in other opinion polls were as follows: Asahi Shimbun (48%, up by 6 points); Sankei Shimbun and FNN (51.7%, up by 5.1 points); Kyodo News (55.4%, up by 5.1 points). The approval rating shown in the Nikkei and TV Tokyo poll was level at 59%. Only the Yomiuri Shimbun poll showed a decline in the support rating (53%, down by 5 points).
The appointment of Shinjiro Koizumi as environment minister seems to have contributed to the rise in cabinet support ratings. A total of 60% to 70% of respondents in each poll said they “approved” of his appointment to a cabinet post.
On the other hand, some of the first-time cabinet appointments come with the risk of making gaffes or causing scandal. Minister of State for Regional Revitalization Seigo Kitamura made remarks about the construction of a dam in his home prefecture [of Nagasaki]: “[A dam needs to be constructed] at the sacrifice of some people.” Some media outlets reported that a photograph of Minister of State for Science and Technology Policy Naokazu Takemoto was posted on a members-only social networking site, in which the minister and a former senior member of a gangster organization posed together. This is already drawing controversy.