Prime Minister Naoto Kan is preparing to reshuffle his Cabinet and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s executive lineup Friday, DPJ sources said Wednesday.
Kan hopes to have the Diet convene an ordinary session on Jan. 24, but it remains uncertain if the opposition camp, which outnumbers the DPJ-led bloc in the Upper House, will accept the plan.
The focus of the Cabinet reshuffle is on Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, who has played a key role in coordinating major policy issues since Kan became prime minister in June. He and transport minister Sumio Mabuchi were dealt nonbinding censure motions in the opposition-controlled Upper House last year, and the opposition has threatened to boycott Diet deliberations on the budget if the two are still in the administration.
The shakeup comes on the heels of mounting discontent among DPJ ranks toward the party leadership. At a DPJ gathering Wednesday of lawmakers of both chambers in Tokyo, party members blasted Kan and party executives for engaging in a power struggle over scandal-tainted DPJ don Ichiro Ozawa instead offocusing on policy objectives.
The criticism came ahead of Thursday’s party convention in Makuhari, Chiba Prefecture, but Wednesday’s gathering ended without major dispute, to Kan’s relief.
“At a time when we are facing tough steering in the divided Diet, who do you think is the enemy here?” asked DPJ lawmaker Harunobu Yonenaga, a close aide to Ozawa, who faces indictment over a funds scandal. “Do you consider Ichiro Ozawa a friend or foe?”
Yonenaga was referring to Kan and DPJ executives pressuring Ozawa to testify at the Lower House Political Ethics Council over his political funds scandal. Kan and party executives have said he should consider resigning as a lawmaker once he is charged.
“If the DPJ really wants to increase its momentum through local elections in April, why aren’t we united?” asked Hiroshi Kawaguchi, whose electoral district includes Ibaraki Prefecture, where the party lost in the prefectural assembly poll last month.
Although Kan said he will create a “412-member-Cabinet” after he won the DPJ presidential race against Ozawa in September, meaning he will call for party unity, Kawaguchi said, “Not one of the party members feels that way.”
Even rookie lawmakers who voted for Kan in September voiced discontent.
“Nobody wants the party to be riddled with internal strife,” said Katsuhito Yokokume, a lawmaker from Kanagawa Prefecture. “What the DPJ needs is to achieve its policy goals.”
Kan meanwhile said he will continue to pursue clean and transparent politics. “I am one of those who is craving for party unity,” he said.
Ozawa allies remained dissatisfied after the gathering.
“(DPJ executives) are saying Ozawa bears political responsibility while dealing with the censure motions at their convenience,” Upper House member Yuko Mori said.
Ozawa and his supporters want Sengoku and Mabuchi ousted in Friday’s reshuffle.
“What Kan should do is reshuffle the Cabinet with the best members,” said the DPJ’s Makiko Tanaka, who was ousted as foreign minister in the once-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, apparently advocating the removal of Sengoku and Mabuchi.
With Jan. 24 confirmed, also by Sengoku on Wednesday, as the date of the Diet session start, Kan hopes to convene the Lower House Political Ethics Council on Jan. 25.
Ozawa’s attendance before the panel became questionable after the daily Asahi Shimbun reported Wednesday that he had decided not to give unsworn testimony before the panel, an about-face from his earlier pledge to appear.
Ozawa wants to avoid having his testimony before the panel used against him in an upcoming trial after he is indicted later this month. His lawyer has advised against it.
Party executives agreed last month on a resolution urging Ozawa to attend the ethics panel if he fails to offer his testimony on a voluntary basis. Days after the decision, he said he would stand before the panel either after the budget clears the Diet or at the beginning of the Diet session.
The Jan. 25 date implies Kan has compromised with Ozawa to prod him to testify.
Information from Kyodo added