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The A team
Sep 28th 2006 | TOKYO
From The Economist print edition
A new prime minister picks his cabinet
HAVING won the race for the presidency of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a week earlier, Shinzo Abe on September 26th was duly elected by parliament to succeed Junichiro Koizumi, the prime minister since 2001. As Mr Koizumi bowed out, Japan's new leader swiftly announced his government.
Those inclined to view Mr Koizumi's iconoclastic years as an aberration from Japan's normal political course may find confirmation in Mr Abe's appointments. Prominent are party hacks who helped Mr Abe to the LDP presidency—Mr Koizumi remained aloof from his backers—while spoils have also been handsomely distributed among the party factions that Mr Koizumi rather hoped to destroy. Thus Koji Omi, a 73-year-old who was an early and vigorous supporter of Mr Abe among a generation that initially disdained him, has been made finance minister; he is no pro-market reformist, though probably in favour of balancing the books. In all, four members of the Mori faction (the party's biggest, to which Mr Abe had belonged) were awarded cabinet posts. The Niwa-Koga faction was thanked for its support with four positions, including a job for Hakuo Yanigasawa, a hapless finance minister under Mr Koizumi, and Sanae Takaichi, who thinks war criminals should be honoured at the Yasukuni shrine and who deplores the right of married women to keep their maiden names. She is the minister for gender equality.
The style of these appointments has disheartened pro-market reformers. Yet while admittedly rewarding party factions and older politicians, Mr Abe has also put vigorous reformists into key posts. In particular, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, a former Bank of Japan official and close ally of Mr Abe, has the crucial job of chief cabinet secretary—the position that Mr Abe held until this week. Staunchly pro-market, Mr Shiozaki thinks that even Mr Koizumi's radical reformer, Heizo Takenaka, who is considered by Mr Abe to be too obviously associated with the Koizumi reforms, grew soft; he is loathed by bureaucrats for his cockiness. In addition, Mr Abe has made an academic, Hiroko Ota, a protégé of Mr Takenaka, economy minister. She will steer the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, the main policymaking body.
Mr Abe has also moved to centralise authority within a traditionally weak prime minister's office, by creating teams of advisers to hammer out economic and security policy—his models are America's National Economic Council and National Security Council, respectively. Here, too, he has appointed bright, practical minds: notably Takumi Nemoto, another ally, who is responsible for economic policy. Mr Abe has sought to thwart any moves by the party to undercut him by making secretary-general of the LDP the other of Mr Koizumi's two key former reformers, Hidenao Nakagawa, the new prime minister's strongest backer. It all suggests an emphasis on more policymaking, not less.
As for foreign affairs, Mr Abe looks set, unsurprisingly, to count on fellow conservatives like himself. Yuriko Koike, a 54-year-old former journalist who fills the new post of national security adviser, has been a staunch advocate of placing sanctions on North Korea for its refusal to provide details of Japanese citizens abducted in the 1970s and 1980s. Taro Aso, who lost to Mr Abe in the fight to lead the LDP, remains foreign minister. Mr Aso backed Mr Abe in pushing for international sanctions against North Korea after it loosed off missiles in July. But he is also seeking an emollient early summit with China.