Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet on Wednesday for the first time since returning to office in December 2012, putting together a lineup that features more women but leaves his core ministers intact.
With no changes in over 617 days, his previous Cabinet, dissolved earlier in the day, set a postwar record for longevity. His first Cabinet from his short-lived stint as prime minister in 2006 lasted 366 days.
Abe retained six of his 18 ministers from the 2012 Cabinet and three deputy chief Cabinet secretaries.
In an evening news conference, Abe emphasized his new Cabinet’s commitment to improving the economy, particularly in rural areas.
“Our top priority will remain on the economy. We will try to break away from deflation,” Abe said.
“We’ll work so that the sense of economic recovery will spread all across the country. That’s the next mission of the Abe Cabinet,” he said.
Asked why he tapped Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki for LDP secretary-general, Abe said he respects Tanigaki’s ability to keep the party united.
“As the LDP president, he kept the party united while the LDP was in the opposition bloc . . . He’s trusted by local chapters, too. That’s why I asked him to take the post,” he said.
The reshuffle comes as the Abe government faces a host of challenges at home and abroad, including whether to follow through with the second stage of the consumption tax hike, and how to repair ties with China and South Korea, which have been frayed by territorial and history disputes.
LDP heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba had held the powerful post of secretary-general but assumed a new Cabinet post aimed at boosting the regional economies after declining Abe’s offer of the new national security legislation post.
The security legislation post was assumed by former Senior Vice Defense Minister Akinori Eto, who will double as defense minister.
While retaining close allies such as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Finance Minister Taro Aso, Abe also appointed Yuko Obuchi, daughter of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, as trade minister.
Abe also created a new Cabinet post in charge of female empowerment, tapping Haruko Arimura, an Upper House member who served as chairwoman of the house’s environment committee from 2008 to 2009. She will double as minister in charge of declining birthrate and consumer affairs.
In line with his promises to raise the status of women in society, Abe boosted the number of female Cabinet ministers to a record-tying five from just two. The government has pledged to increase the proportion of women in leadership positions in both the public and private sectors to at least 30 percent by 2020.
Reformist Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet had five female ministers between April 2001 and September 2002.
The public approval rating for the Abe Cabinet has dropped to around 50 percent from a peak of over 70 percent since it was first formed in December 2012.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party of Japan President Banri Kaieda slammed Abe’s new Cabinet as more of the same.
“I’d like to name it ‘a Cabinet that pretends to be reshuffled.’ Six people retained their posts. It lacks freshness,” Kaieda told reporters on Wednesday evening.
He also criticized Abe’s choice of female lawmakers, questioning whether those appointed really represent his campaign to empower women.
“Five women were appointed as ministers. The issue here is what’s in their heads. I believe there are some who believe in denying women’s participation in society,” he said. ” I wonder if you really can call it the promotion of women.”
The Geneva-based World Economic Forum ranked Japan 105th in last year’s Global Gender Gap Report, which measures economic equality and political participation.