Koizumi planning to reshuffle Cabinet

Prime minister to create postal reform post in September changes

Kyodo

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi indicated Thursday that he plans to reshuffle the Cabinet in September, creating in the process a new ministerial post to oversee postal services reform.

Koizumi noted that the one-year terms for executive positions within the Liberal Democratic Party expire in September, adding that he will consider changing the Cabinet lineup “around that time.”

He was speaking to reporters after attending the three-day Group of Eight summit on Sea Island, Ga.

Koizumi also said he will maintain the current ruling coalition with New Komeito — even if the LDP wins a majority in the House of Councilors election in July — as maintaining the coalition will help “stabilize politics.”

The issues at stake in the election include decentralization and other structural reform programs, efforts by the Koizumi administration to normalize ties with North Korea and Japan’s contribution to rebuilding Iraq, Koizumi said.

But he did not mention reform of the pension system, a key issue that wreaked havoc within the Diet amid revelations that a number of lawmakers, including members of Koizumi’s Cabinet, had neglected to pay mandatory premiums into the national public pension scheme in the past.

Out of the 121 seats up for grabs in the election, the LDP currently controls 50. Koizumi indicated that the LDP will aim to grab 51 seats.

The Upper House currently has 247 seats, but this number will be trimmed to 242 as part of reform efforts.

The LDP has lacked a majority in the Upper House since 1989, though it controls the more powerful House of Representatives.

Koizumi also said that his drive to fully privatize Japan Post will enter the final stages after the election.

“It is better to appoint a Cabinet minister” specialized in this at that point, Koizumi said. He also indicated that someone from the private sector could be chosen for the post, though he did not elaborate.

Reshuffle rumors begin

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s remark at the Group of Eight summit that he plans to reshuffle his Cabinet in September sparked a flurry of speculation in Tokyo political circles Friday.

Cabinet reshuffles are a favorite for political rumor mongering, especially since Koizumi’s choices in the past have not met the expectations of his Liberal Democratic Party factions.

LDP sources said one of the focal points of the reshuffle will be whether Koizumi will keep Shinzo Abe as secretary general. His initial appointment was one of the surprises Koizumi sprung last time.

A senior official of New Komeito, the junior member of the ruling coalition, said the party does not want Koizumi to reappoint Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi, a New Komeito lawmaker, in any Cabinet change.

Party sources said that Sakaguchi has already held the post for 3 1/2 years.

Another issue is who might be named postal reform minister, a portfolio Koizumi said he would create to push forward with his reform agenda.

Financial Services Minister Heizo Takenaka, a possible choice for the post, told a group of young LDP lawmakers at lunch Friday that he would not accept the job if it were offered to him.