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All eyes on Ishiba as Abe closes in on date for Cabinet reshuffle

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to retain Yoshihide Suga as chief Cabinet secretary along with three of his deputies in a Cabinet reshuffle that will likely take place on Sept. 4, a government source said Saturday.

In addition to Suga’s three deputies — Katsunobu Kato, Hiroshige Seko and Kazuhiro Sugita — five special advisers to Abe — Taro Kimura, Yosuke Isozaki, Seiichi Eto, Hiroto Izumi and Eiichi Hasegawa — will also stay on to maintain the decision-making functions of the prime minister’s office, the source said.

Abe wants to replace more than half of the 18 ministers he picked for Cabinet formed in December 2012 and replace some of them with colleagues from his ruling Liberal Democratic Party who are eager to ascend to the Cabinet, ruling coalition officials said.

Meanwhile, the focus is increasingly on whether his rival, LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, will shift to a ministerial post.

In any case, Abe will likely ask land minister Akihiro Ota to stay on, a source said Friday, because the former head of New Komeito, the LDP’s pacifist coalition partner, is considered on good terms with Abe, who doubles as LDP president.

The decision for the reshuffle, which would be Abe’s first since taking office in December 2012, follows an extremely controversial decision by the Cabinet in July to reinterpret the war-renouncing Constitution, rather than formally amend it, to allow Japan to engage in collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under armed attack.

The prime minister had originally planned to conduct the reshuffle on Sept. 3, but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may leave Japan that morning after holding summit talks, the sources said.

Abe could, however, announce his party’s new executive lineup on Sept. 3, while waiting until Sept. 5 or later to name his new senior vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries, they added.

Abe has been considering offering a new Cabinet post for overseeing defense legislation to Ishiba, a former defense minister and expert on defense policy. Ishiba, however, has sounded reluctant about accepting such an offer amid pressure to run for president.

The new ministerial post would be vital to legalizing Japan’s use of the U.N. right to collective self-defense, as well as other security policy changes Abe aims to execute. This will require revising several laws.

In an apparent effort to woo Ishiba, a plan is being floated to let him serve in both posts concurrently. Still, LDP politicians close to Ishiba have asked him to either stay on as secretary general, or shun all posts so he can mount another challenge for LDP president in September 2015.

In the LDP’s most recent presidential race in 2012, Abe defeated Ishiba to become prime minister.

Other potential candidates include Gen Nakatani, former director general of the Defense Agency, the predecessor of the Defense Ministry, and Takeshi Iwaya, a veteran LDP lawmaker who heads the party’s panel on security. Akinori Eto, a former vice defense minister, is also on the list.

LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura, who headed the ruling coalition’s talks on reviewing the legal constraints on the Self-Defense Forces, appears reluctant to take the job and will likely stay in his current post, according to the sources.