Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reappointed to role, new Cabinet expected


Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was re-elected to the post in the Diet on Wednesday and was set to launch his new Cabinet later in the day.

Following a landslide election victory on Dec. 14, Abe is expected to reappoint all previous Cabinet members except for Defense Minister Akinori Eto, who reportedly refused the post.

Eto is to be replaced by Gen Nakatani, a Lower House member who served as the director general of the then Defense Agency in 2001 and 2002.

Eto was appointed to the Cabinet in a reshuffle in September, but came under pressure from opposition lawmakers over alleged shady management of funds by his political support group.

Theoretically, Abe could remain prime minister until the next Lower House election, which is up to four years away.

Additionally, although his term as Liberal Democratic Party president expires in September next year, he is expected to be re-elected and to secure another three years as head of the ruling party. This means he could remain prime minister until at least the fall of 2018.

The expected reappointment of all other 17 ministers, as well as three deputy chief cabinet secretaries, apparently reflects Abe’s confidence that he can handle the Diet without interruption. This is in contrast with the turmoil prior to the Dec. 14 election, when financial scandals claimed the careers of several Cabinet members.

Farms minister Koya Nishikawa was criticized for spending political funds on products and services from firms run by relatives, but he was nevertheless re-elected in the Dec. 14 election on an LDP proportional representation ticket.

Although often portrayed as a nationalistic hawk, Abe has pledged to prioritize the economy, saying the new Cabinet’s top priority is to enact his “Abenomics” policies — super-aggressive monetary easing, greater fiscal spending and structural reforms, which he says are designed to raise Japan’s long-term growth potential.

Meanwhile, the administration also plans to submit bills to expand the scope of the Self-Defense Forces, including allowing troops to act in collective self-defense. The bills, which critics say are anathema to modern Japan’s pacifist nature, are to be presented to the ordinary Diet session which starts in late January.

If Abe succeeds in managing the economy well, his new, longer term in office might give him a chance to try to revise the pacifist Constitution — a long-held ambition of his.

But political hurdles remain as the support of more than two-thirds of both Lower and Upper House members is required to initiate a national referendum, and more than half of voters must approve any revision to the Constitution.

Also Wednesday, the Lower House chose senior LDP lawmaker Nobutaka Machimura as speaker to replace Bunmei Ibuki, and Tatsuo Kawabata of the Democratic Party of Japan as vice speaker to replace Hirotaka Akamatsu.

Machimura headed the LDP’s largest intraparty faction, to which Abe had belonged before the launch of his Cabinet in December 2012.

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda will take the helm of the faction, which is likely to strengthen Abe’s clout over the powerful group, which represents 92 LDP lawmakers.

Hosoda is a veteran lawmaker, well-versed in policy matters and a strong advocate of nuclear power plants and the proposed legalization of casinos.

But Hosoda is not considered an aggressive player in any power struggle, and having him at the helm is likely to strengthen Abe’s influence over the faction’s members.