Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s reshuffled Cabinet is a mixture of hopes and disappointments.
That is because Hashimoto succeeded in appointing some of the ministers on his list but failed to prevent factions within his Liberal Democratic Party from influencing the formation of his third Cabinet.
Earlier in the week, Hashimoto said he would choose the right people for the right jobs, namely his priority policies — administrative reform, fiscal restructuring and revamping the social security system.
Some of the ministers in charge of the various parts of his reforms were retained, while new ones considered more appropriate for certain jobs were added to the team.
But at the same time, his appointment of Koko Sato to the top reform post — administrative restructuring — is certain to be a lightning rod for criticism. A veteran lawmaker with a past criminal conviction, Sato immediately taints the image of the new Cabinet. Ironically, as the LDP panel leader for administrative reform, he may be the right man for the job.
Others Hashimoto retained to maintain momentum were Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka and Health and Welfare Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Their reappointments are intended to ensure that the Cabinet can continue dealing with top-priority issues.
Hiroshi Oki, an Upper House member and former veteran diplomat, was chosen to head the Environment Agency. His appointment is believed to have been made in anticipation of the forthcoming international environment conference that Japan will host in Kyoto in December.
Hashimoto picked Mitsuo Horiuchi, a former businessman and head of an LDP deregulation subcommittee, to head the powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry.
He persuaded leaders of the Obuchi faction, headed by newly appointed Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi, before retaining Fumio Kyuma as Defense Agency chief. Obuchi’s faction, which includes Hashimoto, is the largest in the LDP.
Kyuma, also a member of the faction, has the heavy responsibility of making sure that the review of the 1978 Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines ends successfully. The final report is due later this month.
The Obuchi group had wanted to avoid reappointing Kyuma simply because it wanted more ministerial positions distributed to its other members.
It is the LDP’s longtime practice to distribute ministerial posts according to the two criteria of seniority and faction size.
There are one small and four large factions within the LDP. Although they were supposed to have been disbanded in December 1994, their influence was evident in the formation process of the latest Cabinet.
“Factions apparently narrowed the scope of the prime minister’s discretionary power,” said Yasunori Sone, a political science professor at Keio University. “The seniority system and the practice of faction balancing, which were prevalent during the long period of the LDP’s single-party rule, have been revived.”
The “breakup” of the factions was decided as part of the LDP’s political reform following its loss of power in the July 1993 general election, which ended a 38-year monopoly on politics.
The factions’ activities have gradually become explicit, probably because of the LDP’s recent return to Lower House rule for the first time in four years.
Of the 20 ministerial posts, seven were extended to Obuchi’s faction, four to a faction led by former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, four to a faction led by Mitsuzuka, and four to a group once led by the late Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe.
Hashimoto apparently caved in to pressure from the party old guard when he appointed Sato to head the Management and Coordination Agency, and as head of administrative reform. Sato replaces Kabun Muto.
Hashimoto had wanted to retain Muto because the Administrative Reform Council is gearing up to issue its final report in November.
Although Hashimoto appreciated what Sato did as head of the LDP panel, there were reasons he did not want him in the Cabinet.
In 1986, Sato, 69, was given a two-year prison sentence, suspended for three years, for taking 2 million yen in bribes from All Nippon Airways in connection with the Lockheed payoff scandal.
Because of the scandal, Sato, who has been elected to the Diet 11 times, has never held a ministerial post in spite of his 30 years of service in the Diet. Lawmakers who have served in the Diet more than five terms are “qualified” to receive ministerial posts, under traditional LDP practice.
Takako Doi, head of the Social Democratic Party, opposed making Sato a Cabinet member, saying the new lineup should be “one that can receive the support of the public.”
However, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who virtually heads one of the LDP factions, strongly demanded that Hashimoto give Sato the position.
“It is appalling to have Sato in the new Cabinet,” said Muneyuki Shindo, a political science professor at Rikkyo University. “It is the first time for a Cabinet to have a person with a past conviction. It is a matter of morals. It is something which should be discussed separately from reform efforts.”
Absent from the new Cabinet are key figures of an LDP group that had tried to form a conservative-conservative union with Shinshinto, the largest opposition party.
The group includes Nakasone, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiroku Kajiyama, former Construction Minister Shizuka Kamei and former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano. Kajiyama, Kamei and Yosano, all of whom were members of the last government, were not given positions in the new Cabinet.
Two forces in the LDP — one supporting the current ruling alliance with the SDP and New Party Sakigake, and one hoping to form the conservative union — have been fighting for the past six months.
To balance the two rival forces, Hashimoto had utilized Secretary General Koichi Kato, who champions the group supporting the tripartite ruling alliance, and Kajiyama.
In the end, the group supporting the current alliance won the fight. No rearrangements were made in the three main LDP executive posts, and Kato, Executive Council head Yoshiro Mori and policy chief Taku Yamasaki retained their posts. All three have close links with the SDP and Sakigake.
Whether Yamasaki would remain in the post had been undecided as of Sept. 10 because of remarks made Sept. 8 by an oil wholesaler now under trial for income tax evasion and fraud.
Junichi Izui, the oil wholesaler, told a hastily arranged news conference that he had given Yamasaki illicit money of about 270 million yen. Yamasaki denied the allegation and called Izui’s surprising press conference a “political plot” to oust him from the post.
Kato and Mori defended Yamasaki and told Hashimoto if he replaced Yamasaki with somebody else, Kato and Mori would not remain.
By keeping the three executives as they are, Hashimoto clearly showed his intention to maintain the current ruling alliance with the SDP and Sakigake.
But it is expected that if either the party leadership or the new Cabinet makes a blunder over the administrative reform or defense issues, the other group, which has apparently lost the power struggle this time with the Kato-led group, will capitalize on that opportunity and strike back. The group that had hoped to form the conservative union with Shinshinto has maintained that the current alliance will hit a snag sooner or later due to policy differences between the LDP and the SDP.