Prime Minister Taro Aso’s decision to bolster his depleted Cabinet appeared to be strategy as usual and his apparent inability to change the Liberal Democratic Party leadership is a sign party bigwigs still hold sway, but neither may matter in the looming general election, pundits said Wednesday.

Hidekazu Kawai, professor of international politics at Gakushuin University in Tokyo, said the Cabinet additions highlight Aso’s limited authority in personnel decisions despite his being LDP president.

“The biggest point was who he would find to replace (LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki) Hosoda,” said Kawai. “But he could only (add to) the Cabinet.”

The Cabinet change is just another chapter in internal LDP power games. Aso rose to the presidency backed by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura’s faction, which he rewarded by appointing Hosoda as the party secretary general. But speculation was rife that Aso would attempt to replace Hosoda with a more popular politician to liven up the image of his administration.

Kawai said it was former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Machimura, also an ex-foreign minister, who kept Aso from removing Hosoda from the position second only to the presidency.

“If Aso really had the election in mind, he would have had to replace the top three party posts and add a fresh face who would appear on TV programs and explain the party’s manifesto,” said Kawai. “Someone who could match up with (Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Katsuya) Okada.”

Political analyst Hisayuki Miyake agreed, saying Aso probably wanted to appoint Yoshihide Suga, deputy chairman of the LDP’s Election Strategy Council and one of his key aides.

“He probably wanted to reshuffle the executives but backed off since that would have raised a ruckus,” Miyake said.

Miyake doubts Aso’s moves will improve either his or his Cabinet’s popularity.

“His (popularity) can’t fall any further,” he said.

Kawai said Aso probably timed the additions to coincide with media reports about dead people’s names being used in reports by Hatoyama’s political funds management body, although the effect would probably be minimal.

Opposition hit fast

Kyodo News

Opposition parties criticized Prime Minister Taro Aso’s minor “reshuffle” of his Cabinet on Wednesday, in which he named two people to fill minister vacancies, calling it a “life-sustaining procedure.”

Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima said: “It’s too late to appoint new ministers at a time when the general election is imminent. I feel sorry for those who were appointed.”

Although Aso appointed two Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers to ministerial posts, he didn’t change out the LDP leadership posts.

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