ABE RESHUFFLES CAB­I­NET

Be­lea­guered Ja­pan PM seeks new start with lead­er­ship change

New Straits Times - - World -

TOKYO

JA­PANESE Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe yes­ter­day dumped arch-con­ser­va­tives and em­braced crit­i­cal voices in a cab­i­net re­vamp he hopes will stem a de­cline in pub­lic sup­port af­ter a se­ries of scan­dals and mis­steps.

Po­lit­i­cal blue­blood Abe, in of­fice since De­cem­ber 2012, has pushed a na­tion­al­ist agenda along­side a mas­sive pol­icy ef­fort to end years of on-off de­fla­tion and re­ju­ve­nate the world’s third­largest econ­omy.

But he has seen pub­lic sup­port rates plum­met in the past few months over an ar­ray of po­lit­i­cal trou­bles, in­clud­ing al­le­ga­tions of favouritism to a friend in a busi­ness deal, which Abe strongly de­nies.

Abe’s Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party (LDP) suf­fered a drub­bing in lo­cal elec­tions last month, which an­a­lysts and news­pa­pers blamed on an in­creas­ing “ar­ro­gance” on the part of the prime min­is­ter.

“I deeply re­gret that my short­com­ings have in­vited this sit­u­a­tion,” a chas­tened Abe said ear­lier in the day ahead of the an­nounce­ment of the cab­i­net changes.

Abe reap­pointed for­mer de­fence min­is­ter It­sunori On­odera af­ter close ally and fel­low na­tion­al­ist To­momi Inada re­signed from the post last week, fol­low­ing a scan­dal at the min­istry over the han­dling of mil­i­tary doc­u­ments.

He also tapped a pair of law­mak­ers who have op­posed some of his poli­cies.

New For­eign Min­is­ter Taro Kono is the son of a dovish top diplo­mat known for is­su­ing a land­mark 1993 apol­ogy as chief cab­i­net sec­re­tary over Ja­pan’s use of “com­fort women” in World War II.

The US-ed­u­cated 54-year-old is known as an in­de­pen­dent­minded, anti-nu­clear power ad­vo­cate, in sharp con­trast to Abe’s sup­port for atomic en­ergy.

Kono re­placed Fu­mio Kishida, who served as top diplo­mat since Abe came to power and is of­ten seen as a fu­ture prime min­is­ter.

Kishida moved to a top post in the LDP.

Seiko Noda, 56, at one time hailed as Ja­pan’s most likely first fe­male prime min­is­ter and who in 2015 tried to chal­lenge Abe for the LDP lead­er­ship, was named in­ter­nal af­fairs min­is­ter.

She re­placed Sanae Takaichi, an­other close Abe ally with strongly na­tion­al­ist views.

Inada, the for­mer de­fence min­is­ter, de­lighted con­ser­va­tives dur­ing her ten­ure but drew do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism in De­cem­ber when she prayed at a con­tro­ver­sial war shrine here.

Re­turn­ing de­fence chief On­odera, 57, held the post for nearly two years un­til Septem­ber 2014,

and has vowed to re­store unity and con­fi­dence within the min­istry.

His ap­point­ment also comes amid ris­ing ten­sions sur­round­ing North Korea’s mis­sile devel­op­ment.

Py­ongyang launched its lat­est mis­sile on Fri­day, just hours af­ter the US and Ja­pan moved to step up sanc­tions against it fol­low­ing its ear­lier test of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­ble of reach­ing parts of the US.

The new cab­i­net was an­nounced by Suga, the gov­ern­ment’s top spokesman.

Suga, along with fi­nance min­is­ter and deputy prime min­is­ter Taro Aso, were among of­fi­cials who kept their posts. AFP

(From left) It­sunori On­odera, Seiko Noda and Taro Kono.

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