More prime ministerial trouble

With Prime Minister Abe set to depart on his latest diplomatic jaunt on August 19th, the situation in Tokyo continues to worsen.

The latest scandal involves Defense Minister Koike Yuriko, who is in a showdown with Administrative Vice Minister Moriya Takemasa, a long-serving defense bureaucrat who rose from within the ministry’s ranks (instead of being seconded from more influential ministries as many JDA personnel were throughout the cold war). Jun Okumura (here, here, and here) and MTC (here) have addressed this feud in considerable detail, and there are no details I can add to their thorough accounts.

Koike’s move to circumvent proper channels in firing the unusually long-serving, politically connected vice minister — a move not coordinated with the rest of the government — has brought the criticism of the chief cabinet secretary, but Defense Minister Koike may well win out in the end, provided the Abe Cabinet survives (seeing as how it seems that she will be staying put). It is interesting that it took a squabble between politicians and bureaucrats for Mr. Shiozaki to criticize a cabinet minister, on behalf of a bureaucrat of course. Former JDA chief Nakatani Gen has criticized Prime Minister Abe for failing to exercise his power as head of the military, but then the prime minister has consistently failed to manage his government until it is too late, so Mr. Nakatani should hardly be surprised.

The consequences of the Koike-Moriya flap for the prime minister will likely be small — after all, it’s not like bureaucrats are any more popular with the public than politicians, and Mr. Koizumi certainly showed that an enterprising politician can make political hay by attacking the bureaucrats. But it does contribute to the growing impression of a government unhinged, unchecked, unrestrained by any notion of democratic accountability, the rule of law, or common sense.

Meanwhile, another senior LDP leader has criticized the prime minister, with Lower House President Kono Yohei criticizing the prime minister’s call for Japan to abandon the postwar regime as turning its back on the legacy of the Yoshida Doctrine.

I think it’s great that LDP leaders have decided to criticize their leader’s pet projects and slogans, as well as his decision to stay in power, but I can’t help but wonder if public statements critical of Mr. Abe are having any effect, or if they’re just raising the signal-to-noise ratio and making it easier for the prime minister to ignore critical statements. It’s entirely clear at this point that public criticism of Mr. Abe from within the LDP will not be enough to unseat him; only action — concerted and public — will be able to override the premier’s persisent “no.” It is foolish, for example, to think that former Prime Minister Mori will be able to unseat the prime minister simply be voicing his displeasure in as many public fora as possible.

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