Ichikawa, Yamaoka face ax in reshuffle

Noda to fire pair from Cabinet in move to appease opposition camp

Kyodo

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has decided to slightly reshuffle his Cabinet, possibly as early as Friday, to replace Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa and consumer affairs minister Kenji Yamaoka, who were both censured in the Diet last month, sources said Saturday.

He is also considering replacing some of the executives in his ruling Democratic Party of Japan, possibly by appointing a new Diet affairs chief and making current chief Hirofumi Hirano a Cabinet member, the sources said.

Koriki Jojima, the DPJ’s deputy secretary general, is one of the names being floated as Hirano’s successor, they added.

Noda on Friday instructed all of his ministers to attend a Cabinet meeting Friday, prompting Ichikawa to shorten his trip to Mongolia and other ministers to consider changing or cancelling their planned overseas visits.

But on Saturday, a senior DPJ official said that “there is no need for all Cabinet members to attend the (Friday) meeting,” hinting that Noda only plans to replace a few of his ministers and that there won’t be a formal Cabinet reshuffle, which would require all ministers to submit their resignations, the sources said.

Possible candidates to succeed Ichikawa as defense minister include Yuichiro Hata, the chairman of the Upper House Diet affairs committee, and Naoki Tanaka, a DPJ lawmaker in the Upper House, the sources said.

Wakio Mitsui, acting chairman of the DPJ’s Policy Research Council, has also been floated as a possible candidate for a Cabinet post.

When Noda first conveyed his intention to reshuffle his Cabinet to DPJ executives in December, he was considering doing so sometime between the Jan. 16 party congress and the start of the ordinary Diet session on Jan. 23 or 24.

But he has judged it better to speed things up in light of opposition demands to replace the two censured ministers, as he plans to formally propose to opposition parties this week that they begin talks on hiking the consumption tax — a move they have so far rejected.

The government and the DPJ finalized a draft plan Friday for social security and tax reforms, including doubling the 5 percent consumption tax rate in two stages to 8 percent in April 2014 and 10 percent in October 2015.

While the DPJ is trying to arrange the schedule for the regular 150-day Diet session, the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties have voiced their readiness to boycott deliberations unless the two ministers are replaced.

Ichikawa was censured in the opposition-controlled House of Councilors on Dec. 9 over gaffes he and one of his subordinates made in connection with the plan to relocate the U.S. Futenma base in Okinawa.

Yamaoka was censured in the Upper House the same day, with opposition parties arguing that since he has repeatedly justified pyramid schemes he is not fit to be the minister in charge of protecting consumers from scams.