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Wiser Abe Cabinet logs record 500 days in office

Longest-serving team in postwar history beats Sato record by clamping down on gaffes, scandal

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet on Friday marked the 500th day since its inception in December 2012, extending its record as the longest-serving lineup in the postwar era.

The previous record was set by a Cabinet led by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato more than four decades ago, which went 425 days without replacing any of its members.

Over the years, numerous prime ministers have been forced to sack ministers caught up in one scandal or another. Others reshuffled their Cabinets to maintain power within their party, distributing portfolios to appease lawmakers desperate for some cache to help their re-election chances.

Abe has not found it necessary to do so yet because his Cabinet has maintained high approval ratings. According to an NHK poll in April, the Cabinet’s support rate stood at 52 percent, almost unchanged since December.

The record, however, may not stand for much longer because aides have repeatedly suggested Abe might reshuffle the Cabinet as early as this summer.

Some Cabinet members and close aides to Abe have made verbal gaffes, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has rushed to control the damage by getting them to immediately retract the remarks.

High-ranking officials said they learned a lesson from Abe’s first prime ministership from 2006 to 2007 and have read Cabinet members the riot act to stay clear of verbal gaffes, let alone full-blown scandals.

During Abe’s first term, many Cabinet members got embroiled in political scandals or made embarrassing comments, harming Abe’s approval ratings and straining his relationship with the media.

High-ranking officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said Cabinet ministers are not allowed to express their private views on sensitive historical issues. Only Abe and Suga have the express authority to comment on such topics in public.

For example, in defending the Cabinet members’ controversial visits to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine, all of the ministers repeated the official line — that they are only praying for the people who gave their life for their country, a common practice in other nations — and avoided expressing their own opinions.