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Abe’s man in Cabinet law office steps down

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The Abe government suffered a potential blow Friday as Ichiro Komatsu, director general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, the government’s legal team, resigned for health reasons.

The Cabinet Legislation Bureau screens state-sponsored bills and ordinances and has a very strong influence on how the Constitution is interpreted by the government.

Komatsu, the first unilaterally appointed chief of the bureau, decided to step down because he has abdominal cancer. He feared it would hamper his ability to handle what is expected to be a heavy workload in the run-up to the Diet session this fall, the administration said.

He was succeeded by Yusuke Yokobatake, 62, the bureau’s deputy director general.

Komatsu, formerly with the Foreign Ministry, was handpicked by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and appointed chief of the bureau in January to pave the way for his bid to reinterpret the war-renouncing Constitution to legalize the use of collective self-defense. He is believed to share Abe’s views on the issue.

The past leaders of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, which traditionally picks its leaders from within, all upheld the current interpretation of Article 9.

Yokobatake is seen as a typical bureau member. The former public prosecutor has long been involved in issues related to the Constitution.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he is comfortable with Yokobatake and said he was chosen because he has helped Komatsu in recent Diet sessions and is the “right man in the right place.”

“It is the whole of the Cabinet that is responsible for the interpretation of the Constitution,” Suga said. “I’m not worried.”

Later the same day, a high-ranking government official suggested the Cabinet already has full control of the bureau’s lawyers, including Yokobatake.

“There’s nothing to worry about (concerning Yokobatake). We have already worked closely” with him, the official said.

Abe’s selection of Komatsu was seen as unusual and overtly political because the directors-general are chosen, like Yokobatake, from the bureau’s ranks.

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