Abe exits LDP hierarchy; reshuffle set for Monday

Compiled From Staff, Kyodo Reports

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Friday accepted Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Shinzo Abe’s request to leave his post as he prepared to assign new top LDP executives and Cabinet ministers Monday.

After emerging from talks with Koizumi late in the afternoon, Abe said Koizumi will probably announce the new executive posts Monday morning and reshuffle the Cabinet in the afternoon.

Abe said Koizumi agreed to let him exit the party’s No. 2 post. He also said he does not believe the prime minister will tap him for the new Cabinet.

The 50-year-old popular LDP lawmaker twice met Koizumi, who had just returned from a trip to Brazil, Mexico and New York. After their second meeting, Abe said Koizumi expressed gratitude for his work as secretary general, a position he has held since last September.

Abe’s departure from the LDP executive roster comes as a blow to Koizumi, who has relied heavily on him to maintain popularity with the public since he picked him for the post.

Abe has repeatedly expressed his intention to resign as a gesture to take the blame for the LDP’s poor showing in the House of Councilors election in July.

But there is widespread speculation that Abe is trying to distance himself from Koizumi, who is said to be losing favor with the public as well as within the party, and set the stage for his own bid for the LDP presidency when Koizumi’s term expires in 2006.

After his meeting with Abe, Koizumi told reporters that he has yet to decide anything with regard to LDP and Cabinet posts. The prime minister invariably keeps decisions on personnel matters secret until the last moment.

“I haven’t decided on anything,” Koizumi remarked when asked whether he would offer Abe a Cabinet post. He did admit, however, that Abe has told him he would be unwilling to accept an offer of this kind.

Koizumi also declined to comment on whether he would retain Hiroyuki Hosoda as chief Cabinet secretary.

Meawhile, New Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, plans to nominate its policy chief, Kazuo Kitagawa, to a Cabinet post to replace Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi as Komeito’s representative in the Cabinet.

New Komeito is hoping to get the post of economy, trade and industry minister.

Koizumi has said he would respect the nominations of the party and of the LDP Upper House caucus in naming the next Cabinet, while hinting at retaining Heizo Takenaka, who serves as economic and fiscal policy minister as well as financial services minister.

Takenaka will probably be switched to the new post of postal reform minister from the financial services post while retaining the economic and fiscal policy portfolio, according to party sources.

Koizumi earlier said he would pick advocates of his postal and other reform initiatives in the Cabinet and party executive positions.