Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled executives of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Wednesday, but gravitated heavily toward old veterans in an apparent bid to stabilize his power base.
Abe promoted Toshihiro Nikai, 77, who formerly served as chairman of the LDP’s General Council, to secretary-general to replace longtime ally Sadakazu Tanigaki. The prime minister also appointed 72-year-old Hiroyuki Hosoda, a former LDP vice secretary-general, as the General Council chairman, while tapping former election strategy chairman Toshimitsu Motegi, 60, to become policy chief.
At their inaugural news conference at LDP headquarters, Nikai in particular vowed to help Abe spread the benefits of his Abenomics policy nationwide.
“We will support our president to make sure the LDP can band together and make an all-out effort to live up to public expectations,” Nikai said.
The appointment of Nikai, an 11th-term veteran Lower House lawmaker, suggests Abe is trying to minimize the damage from the loss of Tanigaki, who was deemed unable to continue as secretary-general after undergoing surgery to treat a spinal injury sustained in a cycling accident last month.
The lineup of other executives is otherwise unsurprising, underlining Abe’s pursuit of stability. This contrasts sharply with his apparent emphasis on an image makeover in 2012 and 2014, when he tapped Sanae Takaichi and Tomomi Inada, respectively, to become policy chief, making them the first two women in the position in LDP history.
Local media, meanwhile, have suggested that Nikai’s age will obviate the possibility of him ever becoming a rival to Abe as LDP leader.
In fact, while speaking to reporters last month, Nikai even expressed support for the idea of Abe remaining at the helm of the LDP beyond September 2018, when his term is expected to end in line with the party’s constitution.
Abe’s “very vibrant activities both at home and abroad as the prime minister” warrant an exception to the constitution and align him with former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, Nikai was quoted as saying at the time.
In 1986, Nakasone saw his term as LDP president extended by a year after a landslide victory in joint elections in the Upper and Lower houses.
On Wednesday, Nikai reiterated his stance, saying he intends to set up an opportunity within the party to discuss extending Abe’s tenure “as soon as possible.”
Despite his strong affinity with Abe, Nikai, however, is known for maintaining a cautious attitude toward Abe’s longtime dream of revising Japan’s pacifist Constitution. He stood by the position Wednesday, describing the rewrite of the supreme law as a matter that requires the utmost care.
Of all his pet policies, Nikai is perhaps best known for his ardent push for public works projects in a bid to realize a robust, disaster-resistant Japan. To this end, he advocated 10-year investments to the tune of ¥200 trillion in 2012.
He is also credited with spearheading a movement to have the United Nations designate Nov. 5 as World Tsunami Awareness Day after lobbying international leaders for months.
Meanwhile, Hosoda is a ninth-term lawmaker who served as the LDP secretary-general from 2008 to 2009, while Motegi, who is into his eighth term, held the policy chief position — to which he was re-assigned on Wednesday — from 2011 to 2012.