This despite pressure from within the party to act quickly, with former Prime Minister Mori suggesting that waiting too long for a reshuffle would be a “body blow” to the Abe cabinet. (If waiting too long to reshuffle would be a body blow, what exactly does one call the impact of completely ignoring the results of a historic election defeat?)
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abe has insisted that he intends to once again reject cabinet personnel decisions based on factional recommendations, despite having been told by party elders that his next cabinet ought to be more representative, including members of all factions. Instead it seems he continue to rely on those he feels he can trust, like Mr. Aso for example. The decline of the LDP’s factions and the emergence of Kantei-centered policy making, while having been exaggerated somewhat, has been hailed as a largely beneficial shift in Japanese governance, supposedly signaling the rise of government according to national rather than sectional interests. There is much to be said for this argument. But, at the same time, the Abe Cabinet has been instructive in the vices of Kantei government and the neglected virtues of Habatsu government.
While not accountable to the people in any sort of liberal-democratic sense, the power of the factions within the LDP ensured that the prime minister was responsible to somebody, that even if the prime minister was incapable of seeing the errors of his ways there were plenty of people within the party waiting to interject, criticizing the premier (constructively or otherwise) in the hope of changing the government’s course of action. There was feedback, in other words. In the week since the election, however, we have learned the extent to which not only is Mr. Abe not accountable to anybody, he’s also not getting serious feedback from anyone either. Like his buddy George, Mr. Abe seems to be in an echo chamber of his own making.
I’m certainly not hankering for the golden age of the factions, but at the same time, in the short term a greater role for the factions would minimize the destructiveness of Abe’s obliviousness, ensuring that the government pays some attention to the needs of the Japanese people, and easing the transition to the post-Abe era. Because the post-Abe era is coming, sooner or later. The signs continue to mount. In this week’s Shukan Bunshun Matsuzoe Yoichi, the top vote-getter on the LDP’s PR list last week, criticizes Abe for his response to the election. He writes: “Mr. Abe, it must be remembered, was selected as president by LDP party members, but that does not necessarily mean he was selected by the people. The two-thirds majority of seats in the House of Representatives were taken by former Prime Minister Koizumi, not Mr. Abe. Therefore, it is essential that he takes the people’s judgment humbly and listens carefully.” He then suggests that he thinks that the responsibility is Mr. Abe’s, and that he should resign. (Mr. Matsuzoe’s article follows an article by Mr. Ishiba in which he reiterates his thinking on why the prime minister should go.)
Of course, even if Mr. Abe goes, and soon, the LDP is in trouble, due to the legacy of decades of corrupt practices and unresponsive government that have been brought to the forefront of public attention by the resignation and suicide of four members of Mr. Abe’s cabinet. Is there anyone among the older generation of LDP leaders who has clean hands? As Tahara Soichiro, a journalist, notes in an article in Liberal Time:
Office expenses are a convenient wallet that can only be used by politicians. It is only office expenses because it is not necessary to attach receipts. Therefore, for not a few LDP politicians, a very convenient way of using bad money is designating it under the pretense of office expenses. The four ministers, while facing the doubts and anger of the people, were resolute in rejecting the airing of their receipts, for the reason that if their receipts for office expenses were made public, it would cause a troublesome situation for the whole LDP…
When supporters and voters come from the home district, the member must treat them to a meal. However, if we look beneath the surface, this amounts to a violation of the Public Office Election Law. It is for this reason that office expenses are appropriated. It is an exceedingly simple structure…
For voters, once, ‘roads are built, bridges are built, community centers are built’ — large projects were undertaken. However, now, under policies advocating fiscal reform, large public works could not be undertaken. The remnant of such politics is meal expenses.”
So the question I asked regarding Mr. Akagi’s appointment is relevant for every cabinet position. Is there a cabinet-capable LDP politician without inappropriate conduct buried in his closet?
Even with a new cabinet, therefore, Abe will not escape from harm’s way. He will still find himself dogged by scandals, forced to explain and apologize for his ministers’ activities, and unable to earn the confidence of the people.