Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki as secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Wednesday, removing Shigeru Ishiba, Abe’s top political rival, from the party’s No. 2 post.

Abe appointed Tanigaki, 69, in apparent hopes that the veteran lawmaker, his predecessor as LDP leader while the party was in the opposition, will keep members united without disturbing the balance of power between intraparty factions.

Tanigaki is an experienced politician who has held a number of key positions, including LDP president, policy chief, finance minister and infrastructure minister.

He is currently the head of a small intraparty faction consisting of 29 members.

The secretary general can control party funds and has the power to decide who is fielded as official LDP candidates in national elections. Tanigaki therefore will have the difficult task of handling the upcoming gubernatorial races in Fukushima Prefecture in October and in Okinawa Prefecture in November. Furthermore, voters will go to the polls nationwide in local elections next spring.

“A political party needs to win elections. In Fukushima, (the issue) is, how to revitalize the prefecture. In Okinawa, it is a question of Japan’s security, together with regional development,” Tanigaki told a news conference at the LDP’s Tokyo headquarters following his appointment. “We must yield good results.”

The LDP suffered a drubbing in the gubernatorial election in Shiga Prefecture in July. That race came on the heels of the Abe Cabinet’s decision to reinterpret the war-renouncing Constitution to open up new ways to use the Self-Defense Forces.

Tanigaki’s appointment may help soften the public image of the LDP under Abe, who has combined a hawkish security stance with aggressive fiscal spending.

Tanigaki was known in the party as a liberal dove who has called for maintaining fiscal discipline.

Ahead of his Cabinet reshuffle, Abe also appointed former deregulation minister Tomomi Inada, 55, as the LDP’s policy chief, while tapping former transport minister and veteran lawmaker Toshihiro Nikai, 75, as chairman of the General Council, the party’s top decision-making body.

Like Tanigaki, Nikai heads an intraparty faction of 28 members and is known for his bridge-building abilities. Nikai, a former chairman of the Lower House Budget Committee, also served as chairman of the General Council between 2007 and 2008 under Abe.

He is known for being broadly pro-China and maintains an impressive network of contacts in Beijing. His appointment as chairman of the party’s top decision-making body is widely considered to be a new asset as Japan tries to mend its frayed ties with China. Abe is seeking talks with Chinese leaders during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November to break the ice.

“The public wants friendly relations with neighboring countries. I believe it’s the government’s job to respond to such calls,” Nikai said at the news conference. He added, “I’m happy to do it.”

Inada, like her predecessor Sanae Takaichi, is known as a right-leaning polemicist who regularly visits Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines Class-A war criminals alongside millions of Japanese war dead. Takaichi has also paid regularly visits to the Tokyo shrine.

Inada, who has won Lower House elections only three times, would normally be considered too junior for the post of policy chief in the LDP’s seniority-based pecking order.

As with Takaichi, Abe will likely keep a tight leash on her, thereby strengthening his grip on the party’s policies.

Inada is known for her opposition to giving local election rights to permanent foreign residents, saying it would violate the Constitution.

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