Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday reshuffled his Cabinet, recruiting veteran lawmakers known to be advocates of fiscal consolidation and trade liberalization in hopes of boosting his poll ratings and improving ties with the opposition camp.
The shakeup, resulting in four newcomers to the Cabinet, took place ahead of the 150-day regular Diet session due to begin Jan. 24, in which opposition parties are expected to give the Democratic Party of Japan-led government a rough ride over the passage of the fiscal 2011 budget and related bills.
The highlights of the reshuffle were the appointments of Yukio Edano, 46, who became the youngest-ever chief Cabinet secretary, and Kaoru Yosano, 72, a longtime architect of economic policy in the rival Liberal Democratic Party, as the minister responsible for addressing the tattered public finances and ballooning social security costs.
The other newcomers to the Cabinet are Satsuki Eda, a former Upper House president who was named justice minister, and Kansei Nakano, a former Upper House vice president, who became National Public Safety Commission chief.
“I wanted a Cabinet and party lineup with the greatest power to overcome the present crises,” Kan said in an evening news conference, referring to the slumping economy and unsustainable social welfare system.
This is Kan’s second Cabinet reshuffle, with the first one having taken place in September. It is uncertain if the shakeup will boost approval ratings, which have fallen to less than half their peak of about 60 percent, and avoid gridlock in the divided Diet, in which the opposition controls the Upper House.
The reshuffle, as well as changes in the DPJ executive lineup, came as a power struggle between the leadership and lawmakers backing kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, who faces indictment possibly this month over a political funds scandal, deeply divide the party.
Kan, who has vowed to eradicate money scandals in the party, did not offer any key posts to lawmakers closely affiliated to Ozawa, who lost to the prime minister in September’s DPJ presidential election.
Edano was acting secretary general of the DPJ before being given his new post. He is a vocal critic of Ozawa, as was his predecessor, Yoshito Sengoku, who was axed from the Cabinet after the opposition camp trained its fire on him. He will, however, become the DPJ’s acting leader.
Sengoku, who was censured last year by the opposition in the Upper House over the handling of the Senkaku Islands row with China, is still expected to wield influence over vital government issues through Edano, to whom he has been a mentor.
Yosano, a fiscal conservative who Thursday left Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan), a small opposition party, was tapped as minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, as well as social security reform.
A staunch advocate of raising the consumption tax, Yosano was LDP finance minister and chief Cabinet secretary before the DPJ seized power in September 2009.
He was for many years one of the architects of the LDP’s economic policies.
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