"When God is trying to punish youToday Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko will shake up his Cabinet for the second time since its inauguration nine months ago. A cursory, dismissive review of the reshuffle would attribute the need for a second housecleaning in a short span of time in office as a sign of Noda's political weakness, a move forced upon him by the demands of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito after he failed, in two rounds of talks with Ozawa Ichiro, to win Ozawa's support for the government's primary goal of passing the legislation necessary to raise consumption tax to 10%.
He answers your prayers."
-- various attributions
A cursory review would, as is its wont, be oversimplifying matters.
The meetings with Ozawa last Wednesday and yesterday were never as the news media wanted them to be: for Ozawa to either fall on bended knees before Noda or for Ozawa to come roaring out, announcing that he and his followers were leaving the Democratic Party of Japan. Instead, both men walked out of the meetings with their dignities and the party intact. The most anti-DPJ media outlets called the meetings failures (E) while those with cooler heads merely noted that the two men argued past one another as if on parallel tracks (heikosen).
Both men, especially Ozawa, were very careful in their presentation of what went on at the meetings. Ozawa indeed did the unthinkable last Wednesday, appearing in a mainstream media interview, live, on set during what is the most important, if not most watched newscast: NHK's 9 pm news. Neither on that show nor yesterday did he ever say he would vote against the legislation, if and when it came up for a vote -- only that he was opposed to it. What he and his closest followers would do when push comes to shove has been left hanging up in the air.
With the talks ending inconclusively, Noda has moved on to answer the demands of the opposition, the first of which is the replacement of the Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki and Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Maeda Takeshi, both of whom the House of Councillors censured on April 20. However, according to media reports, Noda is going to go well beyond what the opposition has demanded in the reshuffle, sweeping out of his Cabinet three problematic officials: Minister of Justice Ogawa Toshio, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Kano Michihiko and MAFF Senior Vice Minister Tsutsui Nobutaka.
Ogawa probably did not draw a target on his back for checking up on horse racing reports during Question Time (E). If anything Ogawa's weakness for the horses made him seem more human and approachable.
Ogawa is being shown the door for pulling a Yanagida Minoru (E). In a speech on May 11 at his alma mater Rikkyo University, Ogawa joked that when he was running for office, he had listed on his campaign posters that he had been a judge. "However," he explained, "The three years I spent working as a judge were pretty boring for me, so even though it was not to my advantage, I asked my staff to strip the title from my posters." (J)
It is just amazing what Ministers of Justice will say about their jobs to accommodating audiences whom they feel they need to amuse.
As for Kano and Tsutsui, they are the dead, red meat that has to be thrown to the opposition to prevent questions about the Li Chunguang Affair (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4) from devouring the remainder of the regular Diet session, which has an already hopelessly behind schedule due to the LDP's boycott of House of Councillors' sessions, leaving the Diet only two weeks (in theory) to blow through 60 heretofore unexamined bills. (E)
The upshot is that with the delivery of the heads of Tanaka and Maeda and the dismissal of Kano -- who was going to be a pain the posterior about the Trans Pacific Partnership, another major goal of the Noda government -- and Tsutsui, and with Ozawa's failure to support the consumption tax rise, the onus is now on the LDP, whose campaign manifesto contains a pledge to raise the consumption tax to 10%, to either support the bills or betray themselves.
Of the two, I would prefer the prime minister's position.