Fukuda shuffle coming

It has become increasingly clear that Prime Minister Fukuda will play the cabinet reshuffle card in response to sagging poll numbers, as early as mid-January, right around the time the House of Representatives will likely be voting a second time on the anti-terror law.

He will have an extremely short window with which to launch a new cabinet, with the next Diet session opening on 18 January.

I have written skeptically before about whether a reshuffle will be the answer to the prime minister’s public opinion problem; it might buy him some time with the public and enable him to put off a general election until after the G8 summit in July, but reshuffle or no reshuffle, the DPJ will still be ensconced in the Upper House, complicating his efforts to move an agenda.

But if a reshuffle will have a negligible difference on the fight for an edge in the divided Diet, it could have a significant impact on the battle for control of the LDP. Mr. Fukuda is giving few hints about his thinking for a new cabinet lineup, and beyond the obvious removals (Hatoyama Kunio, for one, and probably Nukaga), it is, as Mr. Fukuda himself said, a “blank paper.”

How will he deal with the party’s reinvigorated conservatives? Will the reshuffle be the end of the truce between the cautious and the ideological? Will Mr. Fukuda ostracize the HANA conservatives and impose his stamp on his government? How would the ideologues react? I suspect they would do nothing, aside from writing more articles about the need for a “genuine conservatism” and continue plotting for the end of the Fukuda government. But the risk remains of more open warfare within the LDP, like that which burst out in August and September (and which characterized Mr. Koizumi’s tenure).

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