• Kyodo News

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Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Tuesday shrugged off the possibility of becoming chief Cabinet secretary later this month.

Speaking at a news conference, Noda said he and Prime Minister Naoto Kan “did not discuss such matters,” and he was “not sounded out” about taking the post, at a time when there is speculation he may be tapped to succeed Yoshito Sengoku in a Cabinet reshuffle expected later this month.

Kan and Noda held talks Sunday at the prime minister’s office. But Noda said the two only discussed the fiscal 2011 budget plan and social security reforms during the 45-minute meeting.

It is widely expected that Kan, faced with falling approval ratings, will reshuffle his Cabinet next Monday in the runup to the start of the regular Diet session.

The focus is on Sengoku’s future as he has played a key role in coordinating major policies since Kan became prime minister in June.

Opposition parties, which control the House of Councilors, have threatened to boycott Diet deliberations if Sengoku stays on. Though nonbinding, censure motions against Sengoku and transport minister Sumio Mabuchi were also approved last year by the opposition in the Upper House.

Some Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers have expressed concerns that Kan’s government would become dysfunctional without Sengoku.

But a growing number of lawmakers in the ruling party are afraid of legislative gridlock in the 150-day Diet session expected to be convened in late January in the event of Sengoku not leaving the Cabinet.

Kan has been struggling to form a strong new Cabinet, according to DPJ lawmakers close to him.

Upper House President Takeo Nishioka, a veteran DPJ lawmaker, revealed at an afternoon news conference that he demanded Kan replace Sengoku during talks Monday lasting for more than an hour.

Nishioka also said that Kan, at that time, appeared to be wondering whether he should replace Sengoku.

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