In the wake of the Liberal Democratic Party’s crushing defeat last weekend in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is preparing to reshuffle his Cabinet and the party leadership, possibly in the first week of August, government and party sources said Friday.
Abe — who is in Hamburg, Germany, to attend a two-day meeting of the Group of 20 major economies which was to start later Friday — is expected to make a final decision on the makeup of his new Cabinet, including the exact timing, after returning home next Wednesday, according to the sources.
The timing of his Cabinet refresh suggests the prime minister wishes to give the incoming ministers time to prepare before the extraordinary Diet session expected to be convened in September.
Abe is likely to retain his key ministers — such as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga — and leave Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and Vice President Masahiko Komura in their respective positions.
But some party members argue that drastic reform is needed to allay frustration within the party.
Abe was initially expected to carry out the reshuffle in September, when the terms of the LDP leadership posts expire, but the historic drubbing his party just took appears to have forced his hand.
Although the election was viewed as a referendum on Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s first year in office, it also helped gauge public sentiment on Abe’s government.
The LDP’s seat count in the 127-member assembly plunged to 23 from 57 as Koike’s Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) and its allies swept in.
Abe, who began his second term as prime minister in December 2012, saw his Cabinet’s approval rating plunge in the run-up to the Tokyo vote.
A number of scandals damaged the government’s standing, including allegations Abe had used his influence to help Kake Gakuen (Kake Educational Institution) open a veterinary school in a special economic zone in Shikoku.
Kotaro Kake, the president of Kake Gakuen, is a close friend of Abe.
Together with the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito, the ruling bloc also drew harsh criticism over its rough passage of the contentious “conspiracy” bill to penalize the planning of certain crimes. The Abe government bypassed a House of Councilors committee vote last month to ram the bill through the Diet, much to the consternation of the opposition.
Many see Defense Minister Tomomi Inada as likely to be replaced in the reshuffle, after remarks during a stump speech where she appeared to seek support on behalf of the Self-Defense Forces for a specific candidate.
Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda is also a strong candidate for a move, after criticism over his handling of the conspiracy bill.
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