In bringing Kaoru Yosano into the cabinet while also giving Nakagawa Hidenao a post as the head of the LDP’s national strategy headquarters, Fukuda Yasuo has merely guaranteed that the LDP’s divisions have been transposed onto the national government.
For the moment, all the government and LDP may be “Nakagawans” now — in that the emphasis will be on growth and reform — as Mr. Nakagawa triumphantly notes at his blog. Machimura Nobutaka, speaking on TV Sunday, noted that due to slowing growth (not to mention a general election within the next year), a consumption tax hike would be “difficult.” Aso Taro, the new LDP secretary-general, echoed the chief cabinet secretary in a press conference Tuesday at which he declared that achieving a balanced budget by 2011 is fine as a goal, but with economic conditions worsening, fiscal measures will take priority over budget balancing.
In case there was any doubt that Mr. Aso would abjure from playing a policy role in the new government, Mr. Aso has quickly demonstrated otherwise. As the runner up in last year’s leadership election, it could hardly be otherwise. It appears that Mr. Aso will use this time in the spotlight to put the lessons learned on his travels to use, burnishing his credentials on economic matters. At his press conference, for example, he said, “In Tokyo [the arrival of a recession] hasn’t really hit home, but in the rural areas that I visited I think there is absolutely a recession.”
But Mr. Aso’s policy activism will only muddle the waters further. Just because Mr. Nakagawa has the upper hand does not mean that Mr. Yosano intends to stop his campaign for a consumption tax hike, even as he will be responsible for drafting the government’s economic plans (although, as a minister without portfolio, he will not have to oversee their execution).
It appears that the new government’s goal is to overwhelm opposition and public with the impression of action. The economic plans to be prepared by Mr. Yosano — although Mr. Nakagawa may have the greatest influence on their shape — will likely ensure that certain important LDP constituents see more money in their pocket and relief from price increases (support for small- and medium-sized business for example), in time for the next general election. Naturally Koga Makoto will revise his prediction of a general election just before September 2009 depending on just how much voters are convinced by the government’s blitz.
Will the voters buy it? Will Mr. Fukuda and company be able to develop a program that works and is politically popular? Will the members of the Fukuda cabinet and the LDP leadership be able to work together enough to assemble and implement said program? Will the government try to coax the DPJ into cooperating on an economic stimulus program?
Whatever approach it adopts, it is hard to ignore the impression that the Fukuda government is preparing to act first, think later.