18.08.2016 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Japanese System of Public Administration to See a Major Revamping

435345345On August 3, the Japanese Cabinet has undergone a third reshuffling since Shinzo Abe took over as the country’s Prime Minister at the end of 2012. This event deserves special attention for several reasons: for one, it was apparently inspired by motives associated with the process of “normalization” of Japan, the advancement of which is already heavily influencing the situation in the Pacific Rim.

A number of other recent hallmark events (results of the Tokyo gubernatorial election, the abdication announcement made by Japanese Emperor Akihito) indicate that the current changes in the Cabinet might be just the beginning of an overarching revision of the Japanese system of public administration.

The reshuffling of the Cabinet was, in essence, a typical reaction of the ruling elite to the results of a regular general election. This time it was an off-year election to the Upper House held on July 10, in which the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition (LDP) together with “junior” partners scored a sweeping victory.

The LDP built its election campaign around the economic policy initiated by the government and nicknamed by the journalism circles “Abenomics.” Though in the recent year “Abenomics” has been losing momentum (as compared to the first two years after its initiation), the Japanese apparently chose to persevere with it since no viable alternative was offered by the opposition.

The LDP perceived its victory as a sign of approval of PM Abe’s economic policy. Therefore, there were no replacements in the Cabinet’s “economic bloc” headed by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.

As for other key posts in the government, Fumio Kishida and Yoshihide Suga were reappointed the country’s Foreign Minister and Chief Cabinet Secretary respectively.

Thus, Shinzo Abe’s closest time-tested associates fully sharing his stance on the principle aspects of Japan’s domestic and foreign policies retained the key positions in the government.

There was, however, one appointment, which immediately grabbed attention of the global news agencies: Tomomi Inada, who served as Head of the Policy Research Council in PM Abe’s government in 2013-2014, took up the position of the Defense Minister. A lawyer by her formal training, 56-year old Tomomi Inada was lately overseeing the development of party policy in Shinzo Abe-led LDP.

China, which perceives the designation of a “lady agreeable in all respects” for the position of the Head of Ministry of Defense of Japan—China’s major geopolitical opponent—as a sure sign indicating that foreign policy adopted by Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet will continue “tilting to the right,” did not find this news too thrilling. An article on the topic published in the Global Times was accompanied with an illustration of an ajar Pandora’s Box emitting thick smoke.

However, this appointment triggered the same reaction in Japan. The Mainichi published a quote from Mrs. Inada’s October 2015 lecture where she said, “I want us to break away from the postwar regime, and make Japan a sovereign nation both in name and reality.” 

Apparently, her aspirations coincide with the core objective of Shinzo Abe’s political career. The LDP set it as its pre-election objective to create fertile ground for an implicit introduction of radical amendments to the current “anti-military” constitution (i.e. by explaining them with economic reasons), and succeeded in achieving it.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Inada has good chances for further advancement of her political career. She might even be elected head of the ruling party and, consequently, become a new prime minister of one of the world’s leading powers, which would be in line with the “feminization of power” global political trend.

There is no certainty yet, however, as to whether the current LDP’s leader Shinzo Abe will run for this position again in 2018, when the re-election of the party leadership will be due.

What is no less (and, perhaps, even more) important is that another ambitious candidate for the role of a future Japanese “iron lady” has entered the competition in recent two-three months. Yuriko Koike won sweeping victory in July 31 election to the extremely important from a political prospective post of governor of Tokyo.

This even has several far-reaching implications. In 2007, during Shinzo Abe’s first term in the office, Yuriko Koike became the first woman nominated for the position of the Japanese Defense Minister. She had served in this capacity for less than two months when she was entangled in a scandal that concluded a series of unfortunate events involving ministers of the then PM Abe’s Cabinet resulting in its dissolution and resignation of the PM and his newly appointed Defense Minister. At that time, it seemed that the two would disappear from the political scene for good.

A few years later, however, both were almost instantly and quite unexpectedly “revived from ashes.” Shinzo Abe’s second rise to power occurred in the second half of 2012. Today he is considered one of the most successful Japanese PMs of the last two-three decades.

Now Koike is going through a similar political ascent. What impresses the most is that she took office as the governor of the Japanese capital in the circumstances when the local branch of the LDP was actually backing her rival.

Another important aspect—in her governor’s race—is that Koike enjoyed an overwhelming support of voters representing a wide range of parties. This circumstance makes her a significant figure of the Japanese political landscape.

However, a long-awaited abdication announcement made by Emperor Akikhito on August 8, 2016, was by far the most important event in the country’s political life. The Emperor’s motives for such a highly unusual for Japanese statehood move were rather convincing. Due to his advanced age (the Emperor is 82-years old) and poor health condition, he is no longer able to properly carry out his duties of “the symbol of the State and unity of the nation” set out in the Japanese constitution. Though his burden is definitely less onerous than that of his predecessor ruling the country in the prewar years. The motive behind it is rather that the leadership of the LDP, i.e. the current architects of the process of “normalization” of Japan, intending to amend the effective constitution to give the Emperor more authority in dealing with state affairs.

That paired with an expanding role of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF), a shift in the authority to deploy SDF from the country’s parliament to PM, and a trend toward the enhanced participation of the Emperor in the state affairs evidence that Japan is progressing toward a new form of government.

And, according to the long-standing Japanese tradition, a new Japan must be led by a new Emperor.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.