All eyes were fixed Thursday on the fate of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku after Prime Minister Naoto Kan hinted that his right-hand man might have to leave the Cabinet to break an impasse with the opposition camp.

Kan faces a dilemma. If he replaces Sengoku and transport minister Sumio Mabuchi in a Cabinet reshuffle, it will create the impression he is bending to the opposition because of the nonbinding censure motions the two were slapped with in the Upper House in November. If he doesn’t, the opposition might delay the fiscal 2011 budget by boycotting deliberations when the Diet opens this month.

On a TV Asahi program late Wednesday, Kan said he plans to reshuffle the Cabinet before the Diet opens for business.

“I intend to prepare a Cabinet and party organization before the ordinary Diet session that will have the greatest power to achieve policies,” he said.

The media interpreted his comments as suggesting he may replace Sengoku and Mabuchi to mollify the opposition before the session begins, although he didn’t specifically mention either of the two.

Speculation is growing that if Sengoku is replaced, he will be appointed to an executive post in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which Kan heads.

In his news conference Thursday morning, Sengoku dodged questions about his own fate and instead criticized the opposition parties for threatening to boycott the Diet deliberations with nonbinding censure motions.

Kan and his top party executives gathered at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence in the morning to discuss the official schedule, including when to reshuffle the Cabinet and open the Diet.

The DPJ is looking at Jan. 14, the day after DPJ convention, to hold the Cabinet reshuffle, and either Jan. 24 or Jan. 28 to convene the Diet.

In the TV program, Kan also said he would risk his political future on the consumption tax.

“It is important to create a secure society even if it means asking the public to shoulder a bigger portion of the burden,” said Kan. “I will stake my political career on it.”

Sengoku said Thursday that the comment reflects the sense of crisis Kan feels.

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