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Breaking down Suga’s picks for his first Cabinet

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PYEONGTAEK, SOUTH KOREA – With Yoshihide Suga formally appointed as prime minister on Wednesday, all eyes will be watching to see how the newly minted leader will steer Japan.

Many will be wondering what is on the horizon for the Japanese political landscape, and if one truly wants a window into how we got here and where we are going in Japanese politics, it is necessary to look at the Cabinet appointments.

Cabinet appointments in Liberal Democratic Party-led administrations are never unilateral decisions; rather, they are the product of intra-party bargaining. As such, by looking at who ended up in what positions, we can learn much more than any speech or policy pronouncement — one simply needs to know how.

The easiest takeaway is to see who stands to gain from the positions they received. If a person landed the post of LDP secretary-general or chief Cabinet secretary, that would indicate a position of power within the administration. If they received a billet that has no ministry under it — e.g. the “minister for promoting dynamic engagement of all citizens” — then it is more of a ceremonial position that comes with a title and not much else.

There is also a pecking order in terms of power and prestige within the Cabinet. Minister of finance and minister of the economy are both important positions typically reserved for allies of the prime minister. Minister for foreign affairs is good for making a name for oneself, but does not wield a significant amount of intra-governmental power.

The list goes on, but these appointments also serve as indicators of which policy issues the prime minister considers most important versus least; after all, if the prime minister appoints a rival to a ministry where they are bound to butt heads frequently, it would be self-defeating.

Looking more closely, we can discern which LDP executives wielded the most influence with Suga. One can determine this through the proportion of appointments relative to the size of their individual factions. Based on whether a faction receives a higher or lower share of Cabinet positions than its number of sitting Diet members, it is fairly easy to discern who are the allies and rivals within the party.

LDP-style ‘unity Cabinet’

Following the LDP presidential election, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai called for reconciliation within the party,........

© The Japan Times

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