Will a reshuffle matter?

Mainichi reports that pressure within the LDP for a cabinet reshuffle is building, as Prime Minister Fukuda and his lieutenants search for ways to reverse the drastic decline in support for the government (the latest sign being a poll that shows more support for a grand coalition or a DPJ-centered coalition than for the current LDP-Komeito coalition).

The argument, at least accordingly to former Prime Minister Mori, is that Mr. Fukuda’s cabinet is a hand-me-down from Mr. Abe — it is not truly Mr. Fukuda’s cabinet. Accordingly, Mr. Fukuda should reshuffle the cabinet to solidify his control of the control.

I somehow don’t think that Mr. Fukuda’s problem is the composition of his cabinet. But for the unfortunate Hatoyama Kunio, his cabinet has avoided the amateurish mistakes of the Abe cabinet. The problem is that having stabilized the party following the post-election chaos, Mr. Fukuda has done little else. Perhaps distracted by the fight over the refueling mission, not only has he failed to address the pensions problem effectively, he has also failed to make any progress on addressing the LDP’s structural problems. How exactly does the LDP plan to contest the next election? Oh, that’s right, by picking candidates “who can win”.

It is no surprise that every week brings more news of the resurgent conservatives. The latest is that the membership of the HANA study group — the “True Conservative Policy Study Group” — is now up to seventy-seven members from both houses, with members from all LDP factions except for the Tanigaki faction. At the group’s second meeting, on Wednesday, Fujiwara Masahiko, the author of the bestselling Kokka no Hinkaku, addressed the group.

What would these conservatives, whose ideological bedfellows in the media have not stopped questioning Mr. Fukuda’s conservative credentials since he took office in September, do in the event of a cabinet reshuffle? Would they quietly respect the prime minister’s choices, or would they try to use the reshuffle as an opportunity to reassert their position in the party and steer the government their direction?

It is still not Mr. Fukuda’s party. A reshuffle will not change that: it just raises the risk of upsetting the uneasy truce the party has enjoyed since the presidential election. Responsibility for the future of his cabinet ultimately lies with Mr. Fukuda. It’s time he acted like it.

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