Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet Thursday, opting for seasoned party veterans to help restore his battered popularity.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who retained his post, announced the new lineup.
Abe’s approval ratings have suffered from a spate of scandals over alleged cronyism and other abuses and objections to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s tendency to force unpopular legislation through parliament.
Abe’s invincibility in peril
The shake-up reflects Abe’s recognition that despite the Liberal Democrats’ overwhelming majority in parliament, his own once seemingly invincible position after more than four years in office may be imperiled.
But plans for the reshuffle were disclosed weeks in advance, and it was not expected to have a major impact on the foreign policy or economy of America’s biggest ally in Asia.
The newly named ministers included many Cabinet veterans, including Itsunori Onodera, a former defense minister who again was named to that post.
Last week, Abe’s protege Tomomi Inada stepped down as defense minister after the disclosure that the ministry hid information about risks faced by Japanese peacekeeping troops in South Sudan.
In Japan, choice Cabinet positions tend to be distributed between factions that operate almost like political fiefdoms within the ruling party. This time, the ministers appear to be chosen with factions in mind, but they went to politicians with proven expertise or track records.
Abe also chose several popular lawmakers known to differ from him on key issues such as nuclear power and revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution.
The new foreign minister, Taro Kono, 54, is known to be liberal leaning and has opposed nuclear energy, though he toned down his stance while serving as reform minister in an earlier Abe Cabinet.
A politics graduate of Georgetown University, Kono is fluent in English. He is probably best known for being the son of Yohei Kono, a former speaker of the lower house who also served as foreign minister.
Kono’s predecessor, Fumio Kishida, opted out of this Cabinet to become the policy chief for the Liberal Democrats. He is widely thought to be aiming to become prime minister after Abe’s term ends or if he steps down.