Cabinet reshuffle idea smolders on after passage of 2nd supplementary budget

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, bottom right, and others bow after the second supplementary budget was passed and enacted at a plenary session of the House of Councillors on Friday afternoon.

The extraordinary Diet session cleared its highest hurdle Friday with the green-lighting of the second supplementary budget for the current fiscal year.

But within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, some continue to call for a cabinet reshuffle and fresh party leadership to buoy the administration.

A proposal has also emerged suggesting that the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) — which voted in favor of the supplementary budget — should join the ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito. However, it is unclear whether Prime Minister Fumio Kishida could accomplish this feat.

Preconceived plan

At a Japanese-style restaurant in Tokyo on the evening of Nov. 24, Kishida reportedly angled for an opinion from LDP Vice President Taro Aso, saying, “I’ve heard that some people think the [cabinet] reshuffle should be carried out after the end of the present Diet session.” Aso is said to have expressed a cautious view regarding such a shake-up.

A reshuffle would carry the risk of scandals coming to light involving newly appointed cabinet ministers. Many LDP members were recently found to have had some connection with the Unification Church, prompting one senior government official to say, “There are few qualified cabinet members to even start with.”

A senior LDP official opined, “We’ve already replaced three cabinet members; it feels like we’ve had a reshuffle already.” Aso is thought to hold a similar opinion.

Many within the LDP believe reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba will be replaced before the ordinary Diet session in January next year. Akiba is facing allegations of violating the Public Offices Election Law.

While ostensibly denying such a move, Kishida is said to be mulling a one-fell-swoop ouster of Akiba, parliamentary vice-minister for internal affairs and communications, Mio Sugita — who has drawn criticism over past controversial remarks — and others in a bid to recover support for his administration. The prime minister has told those around him that he intends to “weigh various points while keeping an eye on the situation.”

Possible split

There has been speculation that, at the time of the reshuffle, the DPFP will join the coalition and party leader Yuichiro Tamaki will be appointed to a cabinet position. Some posit that a new coalition government would be far more effective in buoying the Kishida administration than a simple reshuffle.

Aso, LDP Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi and others have held discussions behind the scenes with Tamaki and others to seek out ways to work together. They also are reportedly keen to cooperate with the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (RENGO), which is the main support base for the DPFP. In addition to supporting the second supplementary budget, the DPFP has offered backing for the current fiscal year’s initial budget and the first supplementary budget, demonstrating its pro-ruling party stance.

However, one veteran member of the DPFP said “it will not be easy to join the coalition.”

Among the industrial labor unions under the RENGO umbrella, four — including the Confederation of Japan Automobile Workers’ Unions — have sent members to the DPFP, while seven of the party’s 20 Diet members are RENGO-affiliated. RENGO also supports the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), and there are strong concerns that the DPFP and the CDPJ could split into ruling and opposition camps, creating a chasm in the organization that supports the two parties.

‘Midair’ disintegration

Coordinating the constituencies of the LDP, Komeito and DPFP is a difficult issue, too. The DPFP contains such notables as House of Representative member Seiji Maehara, who is keen to form a partnership with Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party). A senior DPFP official commented, “If talks on the party joining the coalition move forward, the DPFP will break up in mid-air.”

Meanwhile, Komeito is wary about the LDP approaching the DPFP. If the relationship between the LDP and Komeito were to become strained, the very framework of the coalition could be shaken.

When quizzed by reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday about the possibility of the DPFP joining the ruling coalition, Kishida replied, “I know nothing about it, and I’m not considering it, either.”