Reshuffle questions

It appears that the new cabinet won’t be announced until Friday evening, after my departure from Narita, so it looks like readers will have to wait until tomorrow for my thoughts on the prime minister’s choices.

But my thinking on the fundamental unsoundness of Fukuda Yasuo’s decision to reshuffle remains unchanged. (Readers can find my thread on the reshuffle here.)

As for the morning press coverage, the big dailies appear to be in consensus about two posts: the LDP secretary-general and the chief cabinet secretary. According to Asahi, Sankei, Mainichi, and Yomiuri, Machimura Nobutaka will likely stay in place as chief cabinet secretary for the sake of continuity, meaning that yesterday’s rumors about Koike Yuriko’s becoming the chief cabinet secretary were fanciful. As for the LDP secretary-general, the papers seem to agree that Mr. Fukuda will ask Aso Taro to serve once again as secretary-general, just as he did in the short-lived second Abe cabinet. The reasoning, according to Asahi, is that Mr. Aso, being the man of the people that he is, is more fit to lead the LDP into a general election than Ibuki Bunmei. Even if Mr. Aso rejects the offer, Mr. Ibuki will be gone: Asahi suggests that current Finance Minister Nukaga Fukushiro will be offered the post if Mr. Aso turns it down.

But if Mr. Aso becomes Mr. Fukuda’s deputy at the helm of the LDP, how would the second Fukuda cabinet/LDP leadership being any more Fukuda-colored than the first Fukuda cabinet? How does bringing in Mr. Aso — even to a political role like secretary-general — and retaining Mr. Machimura clarify the prime minister’s policy approach?

That meaningless phrase “Fukuda color” will be repeated ad nauseaum in the coming days, but readers would do well to ignore it. This new cabinet will be no less uniform than the current Fukuda cabinet; the Fukuda color is compromise and political expediency.

The question is what Mr. Fukuda and his confidantes will find political expedient at this juncture. There is speculation about giving Komeito more prominence to ease its concerns. As noted yesterday, even if Ms. Koike will not be tapped as chief cabinet secretary, the prime minister may still opt to bring some glamor to his cabinet in the form of one or more of the LDP’s prominent female politicians. Will he opt for youth more generally, making for a more telegenic cabinet? Or will he merely shuffle party elders?

But whatever he chooses, Mr. Fukuda still has a mountain to climb. The reshuffle may improve his chances of staying at the helm of the LDP long enough to lead it into the next general election, as Jun Okumura argues, but it will do little to improve his and his party’s electoral prospects.

So let the meaningless reshuffle begin!

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