Political Power Interventionism in Bureaucrats’ Appointments under the Abe Government

Arnaud Grivaud

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/sijp.2020.56-59.5


For every government, controlling its bureaucracy is necessary to implement policies, and human resources management (HRM) is a crucial lever in order to enforce this control. Since the end of the Second World War, the Japanese bureaucracy has managed to keep a relatively strong independence toward politicians regarding  HRM. But  from the 1990’s onwards, several reforms reinforced politicians’ intervention power in high-rank  bureaucrats’ appointments. Since the return of Abe Shinzō to power, this tendency seems to have accelerated. Observers frequently draw attention to the particular amount of nominations influenced by prime minister’s decisions, sometimes insinuating that the bureaucracy could become politicised and thusly see its principle of neutrality endangered.

This paper aims at explaining to what extent these interventions constitute a new phenomenon or not. After reassessing the situation under the “55-year system”, it explores the factors that could explain the recent changes, and analyses their consequences on the bureaucracy. We consider that despite an obvious voluntarism from the Government and the creation in May 2014 of the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs, it would be overstated to speak of a revolution that could lead to a Japanese-style spoils system. In fact, we see that with some exceptions, these political interventions respect many of the old nominations habits, which suggests that senior civil servants’ appointments are still resulting from a negotiation between politicians and ministries, and that the legal framework is not the only variable to take into account. We argue indeed that the prime minister’s political stability determines to a great extent his room for manoeuvre regarding such interventions,  and we think that his caution  not  to excessively antagonize bureaucrats is precisely what enabled him to break other HRM traditions.

Słowa kluczowe

bureaucracy; appointments; Abe; politics; institutional change

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