Abe ready for ‘fresh’ restart as Cabinet is sworn in

New leader hopes key picks put nation back on upward path

Shinzo Abe, president of the Liberal Democratic Party, became Japan’s seventh prime minister in six years Wednesday, replacing Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan.

After leading his party back to power from three years in the opposition, the revived leader said his priority would be to end the nation’s extended economic slump.

Abe, who served as one of those short-lived prime ministers from September 2006 to August 2007, immediately formed his Cabinet and said he was looking forward to a fresh start.

“I got up today with a fresh feeling,” Abe, 58, told reporters in the morning. “By drawing on my experience of heading a government, I’d like to run my new government in a stable manner.”

During his first news conference, Abe acknowledged that public criticism and skepticism were not only against the Democratic Party of Japan but also the LDP. In order to regain public trust, his government must address urgent matters, especially the stagnant economy, he said.

“The current problems and crises we face will not be solved by looking back and criticizing the previous government,” Abe said. “A country that gives up on economic growth will have no future. We will make decisions and implement accurate policies to achieve that growth, aiming for a bright future together with the people.”

Abe also expressed confidence in his Cabinet, in which he said he prioritized the ministers’ experience and abilities — unlike the last time in 2006 when he was criticized for forming a Cabinet of cronies.

Abe was voted in easily by the Lower House, two-thirds of which it now controls with ally New Komeito, and in a runoff in the less-powerful Upper House, where the LDP lacks a majority.

In the lower chamber, Abe received 328 of the 478 votes cast.

In the Upper House, however, none of the candidates received a majority of the 234 votes in the first round. In the ensuing runoff, Abe received 107 votes to new DPJ leader Banri Kaieda’s 96.

To kick-start the economy, Abe is embarking on a set of policies to force the central bank to set an inflation target and engage in unlimited monetary easing, and to launch a flurry of fiscal spending on public works. Abe gave the post of finance minister to former Prime Minister Taro Aso, who joined other countries in responding to the 2008-2009 global financial crisis with fiscal stimulus.

In the hope of implementing the fiscal and financial programs effectively to tackle Japan’s chronic deflation,

Aso, 72, who was prime minister when the LDP was ousted by the DPJ, will concurrently serve as deputy prime minister, the finance minister and the financial services minister.

Many positions were also filled by former Cabinet members who held portfolios before the DPJ’s rise to power in 2009, with Akira Amari, 63, a former trade and industry minister, appointed economic revitalization minister, a new post created by Abe.

Toshimitsu Motegi, 57, a former financial services minister, was named the economy, trade and industry minister. He will be tasked with implementing the nation’s future energy policy following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Yoshihide Suga, 64, one of Abe’s closest aides, was given the post of chief Cabinet secretary. The top government spokesman also plays a major role in coordinating policies among ministries.

By scoring some immediate achievements in the economic field, Abe hopes to secure a solid victory for the LDP in the Upper House election next summer.

Abe aims to pursue several other major policies pledged during the election campaign, including revising thewar-renouncing Constitution. With China’s maritime ambitions and North Korea’s rocket launches perceived as a threat to the security environment in East Asia, Abe has promised to strengthen Japan-U.S. ties and enable Tokyo to exercise its right to collective self-defense with Washington, which has been banned under the government’s interpretation of the Constitution.

Abe appointed Fumio Kishida, 55, former state minister in charge of issues related to Okinawa, as foreign minister, believing that making a breakthrough in the long-stalled relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa is essential for Tokyo and Washington to reinforce the alliance.

For the post of defense minister, Abe named Itsunori Onodera, 52, who served as senior vice foreign minister during his previous administration, which ended in 2007.

Abe also picked Nobuteru Ishihara, 55, a rival candidate in the LDP presidential election in September, as minister in charge of handling nuclear safety and the Fukushima disaster, while doubling as environment minister.