Having surprised everyone by naming young Shinzo Abe as the new secretary general of the LDP on Sunday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi opted for a more staid formula in announcing his new Cabinet on Monday.
Koizumi retained several key ministers — Heizo Takenaka as minister in charge of financial services and economic and fiscal policy, Yoriko Kawaguchi as foreign minister and Yasuo Fukuda as chief Cabinet secretary.
Eight of Koizumi’s ministers survived from his previous Cabinet, with six of these remaining in the same posts, including Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba and health minister Chikara Sakaguchi.
Indeed, the biggest surprise was the reappointment of Kawaguchi, who was expected to be supplanted by a Diet member.
In the previous Cabinet, it was Fukuda, in fact, who was effectively doing the foreign minister’s job. A powerful politician well-versed in foreign policy affairs, Fukuda was the minister approached by U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker with regard to Iraq and North Korea.
There was speculation that Fukuda wanted to serve as foreign minister in the new Cabinet. But Koizumi decided to keep him as chief Cabinet secretary because there was no one else among those close to Koizumi who could handle the top spokesman’s job.
Koizumi has opted to maintain the diplomatic status quo by retaining the low-key Kawaguchi and allowing Fukuda to continue playing an important diplomatic role in his current post, according to observers.
Kawaguchi’s reappointment fulfills another desire voiced by Koizumi in the lead up to Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle: to name “at least a few” female ministers. He managed to name three.
Along with Kawaguchi are Yuriko Koike and Kiyoko Ono, both of whom have strong public appeal. Koike, named environment minister, is a former TV newscaster, while Ono, the new public safety minister, is a former Olympic gymnast.
His decision to retain Takenaka, meanwhile, will certainly inspire anger among the antireform elements of the LDP.
Having enjoyed a landslide victory in the presidential election, however, the confident Koizumi has sent out a strong message through his reappointment.
Jun Iio, professor of political science at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said: “Keeping Takenaka was a natural course. If Koizumi changed Takenaka, it would simply give the impression that the structural reform drive has waned.”
Iio said that replacing Takenaka would do Koizumi no good as it would merely satisfy his opponents in the LDP.
Koizumi has sought to emphasize that his reform agenda remains intact by naming Sadakazu Tanigaki as finance minister. Tanigaki, former minister in charge of industrial revitalization, has been one of the driving forces behind Koizumi’s structural reforms.
As Tanigaki’s predecessor, Masajuro Shiokawa, was in the forefront of efforts to cut government spending on public works, Koizumi opted to name someone who would continue to pursue this path.
For Koizumi, however, respecting the voice of Mikio Aoki, secretary general of the LDP’s Upper House caucus, was a key factor in terms of personnel decisions, as Aoki had effectively inspired Koizumi’s victory by supporting him.
Along with Aoki, some 40 members of the party’s largest faction, led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, had supported Koizumi rather than Takao Fujii, a faction member who ran against Koizumi.
Although Koizumi brushed off Aoki’s demands that Takenaka be replaced with a Diet member, he heeded calls to sack his closest aide, Taku Yamasaki, as LDP secretary general.
Much of the personnel drama ended Sunday when news hit Nagata-cho that Yamasaki had been replaced with Abe, former deputy chief Cabinet secretary.
Yamasaki, who has been targeted over his alleged extramarital affairs, was another focus of criticism in the party.
“It’s a very good decision,” Aoki told reporters Sunday after he learned of Abe’s appointment. “It’s good for building unity in the party, and good for the election.”
Koizumi also showed consideration for Aoki by naming Fukushiro Nukaga as the LDP’s policy chief and Fumio Kyuma as acting secretary general of the party. Both men are close aides of Aoki.
As Aoki said, Abe’s appointment is aimed at exploiting his high public popularity in the House of Representatives election, now almost certain to be held in November.
“Koizumi could not resist the voices that the LDP cannot win the election with Yamasaki being secretary general,” Iio said.
While the appointment of Abe, 49, seems unusual due to his relatively young age, it also demonstrates Koizumi’s limited pool of personnel choices.
“Koizumi has only a few close aides, and if you look around for someone close to him with good public image, there was no one else but Abe,” Iio said.
The reappointment of Fukuda, whom Koizumi calls “irreplaceable,” also suggests there is no one else who can serve as Koizumi’s right-hand man.
Under the influence of Aoki, however, the key question now is whether Koizumi can produce reform results.
If he fails to fend off Aoki’s opposition toward his policies, it will simply be another Koizumi term featuring reform slogans but few results.
Opposition lashes out
Opposition parties slammed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s new Cabinet on Monday, saying he emphasized faces that would attract votes in the upcoming general election.
They also said he gave posts to those who gave him key backing in the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election.
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