The press — for the most part — holds its praise

As the Japanese political world digests the newly announced cabinet reshuffle, the major dailies have each editorialized on the new cabinet, sounding some similar notes. Reading Asahi, Sankei, and Yomiuri, each editorial seemed pleasantly surprised by the quality of the individuals tapped by the prime minister for his new cabinet and the LDP executive. None, however, thinks that the new cabinet drastically alters the political landscape, because the Abe government still has to find the best way to deal with the Upper House being in opposition hands.

Asahi acknowledges that the new cabinet signifies a real change — although less than meets the eye, due to the retention of certain members of the first cabinet (i.e., Mr. Ibuki) — from the first Abe Cabinet, but by turning to a cabinet of LDP heavyweights, “the fading of Mr. Abe’s presence will not be avoided. Asahi, of course, is not prepared to give the new cabinet a honeymoon period, demanding to know what the second Abe Cabinet’s policy goals are, and it expects that the DPJ will be equally unforgiving.

The conservative Sankei Shimbun praised the new lineup, but pointed to the daunting task facing the new lineup in implementing policy in light of the ascendant DPJ — although Sankei thinks that rather than yielding to the DPJ and seeking compromise, the new cabinet should insist that it will not cave on important policies.

Right-of-center Yomiuri, which has easily been the Abe government’s most loyal supporter in the media, acknowledges that the “journey ahead is full of troubles,” but then proceeds to praise the talents of the new LDP leadership team, suggesting that Mr. Aso will be up to the challenge of uniting the party, and that Messrs. Ishihara and Nikai will be adept at working with the DPJ, Ishihara from his experience as one of the “new breed” of young policy-wonk legislators who worked across party lines in the 1998 “Finance Diet,” Nikai from his time spent in opposition alongside Mr. Ozawa. Indeed, on this subject of cooperation with the DPJ, Yomiuri not surprisingly called for the new cabinet to cooperate with the DPJ as much as possible, echoing its recent call for an LDP-DPJ grand coalition (in fact, the last portion of the editorial more or less repeats the previous editorial, suggesting that if the government runs into trouble, it should form a grand coalition).

Yomiuri was equally effusive in its praise for the new cabinet, and has high hopes for Mr. Yosano’s elevation to chief cabinet secretary. In fact, despite opening the editorial acknowledging the difficult task facing the new Abe cabinet, Yomiuri actually spends remarkably little time talking about the nature of the challenges and proposing the best course of action to overcome them. In short, there are lots of policy problems, and the best way to deal with them is cooperation. It’s not exactly a vote of confidence, though, that in its editorial on the new cabinet Yomiuri once again suggested that the best course of action might be a grand coalition.

In general, then, the mood sees to be “wait-and-see.” There is a sense that the new cabinet is certainly capable, but whether it will be able to do anything more than buy the LDP some time with which to sort out its structural problems remains to be seen. There is also the sense that Prime Minister Abe, now surrounded by serious, senior party leaders, will be taking a back seat in the management of his government, particularly with the able Mr. Yosano as chief cabinet secretary.

Said Yomiuri about the new CCS: “It is heard that there is hope that he will act not just as the cabinet’s spokesman, but that he will play a central role in policy coordination within the government and between the government and the ruling parties.” Rather than falling into line behind the prime minister, it seems that the new cabinet will be issuing orders to Mr. Abe, formulating the government’s policy message, setting its Diet strategy, and otherwise trying to avoid the mistakes that doomed the first Abe Cabinet.

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