On Monday, Fumio Kishida officially became Japan’s 100th prime minister. Along with Kishida’s formal accession to power came the formation of his Cabinet, in which he made 20 appointments to go along with the LDP executive positions he decided last Friday.
Kishida’s first Cabinet is indicative of the outcomes of the intraparty deal-making that helped elevate him to the country’s top job. Cabinet appointments are tools for managing intraparty politics and have been for decades. A prime minister will use the postings to reward allies, placate or punish adversaries, and satisfy intraparty deals. That’s why it is important to look at not only who gets picked, but which LDP patrons they represent.
A deep look at the Cabinet reveals a few key points.
First, this is not a “unity Cabinet” — a Cabinet which has near-equal representation across all of the LDP’s institutionalized factions. Instead, this is a Cabinet that reflects all the deals that were made to get Kishida into the party presidency. He rewarded his allies, paid off debts and snubbed rivals.
The second point relates to the influence of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso: Kishida had some major concessions to Abe and Aso in his Cabinet picks, but he managed to hold his own in some ways, too. When looking at the proportion of appointments, Abe’s home Hosoda faction came up a bit short, and Aso’s faction actually earned a proportional share to its size in the party. Their influence came more in the specific positions they received, like the important chief Cabinet secretary and economy ministerial positions. Still, Kishida managed to push Aso out of the Cabinet and has ensured that his closest allies received their fair share of postings.
The third point is that Monday was a bad day to be a Taro Kono supporter. Basically anyone in the Kono camp failed to earn Cabinet-level postings. We may see more parity among the different LDP groups in sub-Cabinet postings, but certainly not inside the Cabinet itself.
While each Cabinet appointment is notable, there are 10 people worth looking at — nine that made it in and one that was left out.
Hirokazu Matsuno: Chief Cabinet secretary
The chief Cabinet secretary position is one of the most important in the government. As the de facto No. 2 position inside the government, the chief Cabinet secretary serves as both the prime minister’s principal policy coordinator and spokesperson.
Given the importance of the position, Kishida was pressured to pick someone from Abe’s home Hosoda faction. Kishida opted for Matsuno, who has been little more than a grinder for the faction and has no chance of becoming prime minister in the future. That fact is probably why Kishida picked him: He needs a lieutenant in that position, not a challenger, and so Matsuno was a manageable choice.
Toshimitsu Motegi: Foreign minister
Motegi was one of the backroom forces that helped engineer Kishida’s victory by ensuring most of his home faction voted for the new prime minister. To return that favor, Kishida decided to keep Motegi on as foreign minister, a position that he has held since September 2019.
This is a good deal for both Kishida and Motegi. Motegi has held all the most important positions except for chief Cabinet secretary, finance minister, and LDP secretary-general. With those positions going to others, staying on as foreign minister allows Motegi to build his international reputation, keep his role in the National Security Council and stay in the public eye.
For Kishida, he can keep the de facto leader of the Takeshita faction happy and maintain continuity in the government’s foreign policy. As Kishida focuses inward on policies meant to benefit the electorate with the two upcoming elections, he will be glad to keep a steady hand at the helm of Japan’s diplomatic efforts.
Nobuo Kishi: Defense minister
Like Motegi, Kishi is reprising his role in the Cabinet. Kishi’s reappointment as defense minister is a logical move for Kishida. Kishi is another member of the Hosoda faction, which helps fulfill the intraparty deal that helped Kishida become prime minister. More than simply satisfying internal politics, Kishi’s continued presence enables Kishida to maintain continuity in security policy with a competent player in charge.
Despite being somewhat of a surprise appointment under the Suga administration, Kishi has performed better than most of his predecessors from the past decade. Akinori Eto was utterly forgettable; Gen Nakatani stumbled his way through deliberations over controversial security legislation; Tomomi Inada alienated the Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces before gaffing her way to resignation; and Takeshi Iwaya failed to manage the Aegis Ashore acquisition, which opened the door for Kono to disrupt the whole project unilaterally (much to the chagrin of the LDP).
Meanwhile, Kishi has proven competent as a partner for foreign governments and unflappable in his responses to questions inside the Diet and with the press. In this case, keeping Kishi in the Cabinet was both a safe move for Kishida and a good one.
Shunichi Suzuki: Finance minister
For the first time in nearly a decade, Aso is not Japan’s finance minister, but his brother-in-law is. Like Aso, Suzuki comes from political stock (he is the son of former Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki), but unlike Aso, he is not independently powerful within the party. Suzuki is a member of Aso’s faction and was no doubt a compromise option for Kishida to ensure Aso’s departure from the Cabinet. Aso may be on the outside, but observers should expect Suzuki to follow Aso’s lead in managing Japan’s finance policies.
Koichi Hagiuda: Minister of economy, trade and industry
Under the past two administrations, this posting went to close allies of Shinzo Abe, and Abe’s influence shined through in this pick. Hagiuda was a close aide to Abe during his premiership, and his name was floated for the chief Cabinet secretary position under Kishida. Kishida managed to keep Hagiuda out of that influential job, but had to give him stewardship over the government’s second-most influential ministry.
Takayuki Kobayashi: Minister of economic security
Kishida established a new ministerial post for economic security, which is a natural evolution of policy efforts already under way, especially as Western countries step up their guards against economic statecraft by authoritarian countries. The Japanese government had already established an Economic Division under its National Security Secretariat in April 2020, so the ministerial position just institutionalizes the policy issue within Cabinet dealings.
That Kishida decided to create a ministerial posting is not unusual, but his choice to fill it is. Kobayashi is a member of the Nikai faction and is only a three-term lawmaker. This signals that Nikai faction members backed Kishida in the party presidential race. It also shows that Kishida was willing to bring up some junior lawmakers based on their qualifications rather than age. In this case, Kobayashi had served as a vice-minister of defense and will probably work out better than one of the more senior Nikai faction members that would have been picked based on longevity alone.
Tetsuo Saito: Minister for land, infrastructure, transport and tourism
For the past decade, the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito has been guaranteed one Cabinet position, and that is the land, infrastructure, transport and tourism ministry slot. As the ministry responsible for the greatest number of pork barrel projects, it is a good position for the Komeito to hold, both for satisfying their own constituents and for serving as a watchdog over the LDP-controlled government. With the appointment of Saito, this coalition deal continues under the Kishida administration.
Seiko Noda: Minister for regional revitalization
While Kishida sent his opponent Kono to relative oblivion by making him the LDP’s public relations chief, he granted Noda a Cabinet posting. She will wear a few hats as the minister for regional revitalization, the head of the Children’s Agency and others. These are not the most influential postings, but it rounds out a great few weeks for Noda, who not only received enough nominations to run for party presidency but now gets to work on some of the policies that are nearest to her heart.
Noriko Horiuchi: Minister for coronavirus vaccinations
Horiuchi is another three-term lawmaker that jumped the queue to earn a spot in Kishida’s Cabinet and she stands out for a few reasons. First, Horiuchi may be the most pedigreed politician in the LDP. She is related to 12 different prominent parliamentarians past and present, including former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida — which makes a difference in a government where dynasty matters so greatly. Second, in a party with so few women, Horiuchi happens to be one that does not fall squarely in the conservative camp such as Sanae Takaichi, Haruka Arimura or Inada. Finally, she is a member of the Kishida faction, so her faction head is probably exploiting those first two points and working to elevate her stature in the government.
Taro Aso: Out of Cabinet
For the first time in nearly a decade, Aso has a new job. He has served as deputy prime minister and finance minister since December 2012 but will now take on the role of LDP vice president. This is not the equivalent of being put out to pasture, but it is a preretirement job.
A good precedent to reference is Masahiko Komura, another LDP heavyweight that was previously a faction head. At the tail end of Komura’s political career, he was made LDP vice president where he was responsible for maintaining harmony inside the party and leading negotiations with opposition parties over controversial legislation. Komura did some important work behind the scenes but gradually faded into obscurity.
At 81 years old, it might be time for Aso to step back from the spotlight, but he is probably not ready to accept his fate yet. How he handles this new role will be an important factor in Kishida’s first year in office.
The two upcoming general elections will shape Kishida’s Cabinet. This is the Cabinet that he will lead through the upcoming Lower House vote in the coming weeks, but, depending on how he fares, he could shuffle a few members out when he has to re-form his Cabinet after the election.
At the very least, we should expect a full Cabinet reshuffle after the Upper House election in summer 2022. Whether Kishida conducts those reshuffles from a position of strength or weakness will depend entirely upon how well the LDP performs in those votes.
Michael MacArthur Bosack is the special adviser for government relations at the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies. He previously served in the Japanese government as a Mansfield fellow.
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