• Kyodo News


Prime Minister Naoto Kan may replace the Diet affairs chief of his ruling Democratic Party of Japan, Yoshio Hachiro, later this month in an attempt to rebuild relations with the powerful opposition camp, party sources said Friday.

In addition, Kan appears to be exploring the possibility of appointing Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa to a different Cabinet post, including chief Cabinet secretary, or to a key role in the DPJ, the sources said.

In the morning, Kan and Kitazawa held talks for about 30 minutes in the prime minister’s office. They also had one-to-one talks Tuesday night.

Kan is planning to reshuffle his Cabinet and the DPJ leadership ahead of the 150-day regular Diet session expected to begin late this month in the hope of stemming recent drops in his public approval ratings and avoiding legislative gridlock.

Some of the names being floated so far as possible candidates to succeed Hachiro include Kozo Watanabe and Tatsuo Kawabata, senior DPJ lawmakers who both have experience serving as a Diet affairs chief in the last decade, the sources said.

Watanabe is an outspoken DPJ veteran often at odds with Ichiro Ozawa, a powerful politician in the ruling party who has been critical of the way Kan is running the government.

Kan is considering replacing Hachiro because he could not prevent the opposition-controlled House of Councilors from approving censure motions against Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku and transport minister Sumio Mabuchi in November.

The censure motions are nonbinding but the Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition parties are demanding that the two Cabinet members leave the government, warning they would boycott upcoming Diet deliberations.

In a bid to win enough opposition backing to pass the fiscal 2011 budget and related bills in the divided Diet, Kan is also leaning toward replacing Sengoku and Mabuchi, the sources said.

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