STOCKHOLM – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday he will reshuffle his Cabinet and key Liberal Democratic Party posts in early August, following a historic defeat in the Tokyo assembly election and several missteps by his ministers.
But Abe, speaking to reporters during a visit to Sweden, signaled that he would retain his core ministers when asked whether such trusted hands as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Finance Minister Taro Aso, the deputy prime minister, would keep their posts.
The framework of the government should “not be changed over and over again,” Abe told reporters, adding that he wants to “actively promote” talent to the Cabinet and the party’s key posts to steadily steer the country and carry out reforms.
Abe, who has been in office for five years, said he has no intention of dissolving the Lower House and calling a snap general election any time soon.
“I don’t have that in mind at all,” he said. “What is expected of the Abe Cabinet is to produce results.”
The next Lower House election does not have to be held until December 2018, when the lawmakers’ terms expire.
Abe has seen his Cabinet’s support rate plunge since the ruling coalition led by his Liberal Democratic Party rammed the contentious conspiracy bill through the Diet using a shortcut in procedure. Compounding the damage have been ongoing allegations in the Diet that he influenced the approval process for a rare construction project headed by his friend Kotaro Kake, and denials by his proxies and his administration that the leaked documents behind the scandal were authentic or even existed, among other issues.
Observers said that another factor contributing to the LDP’s stinging defeat in the Tokyo assembly election on July 2 was a campaign speech by Defense Minister Tomomi Inada in which she clearly implied that Self-Defense Forces supported an LDP candidate, breaking the SDF’s strict policy of political neutrality.
Inada faced questions from members of both the ruling and opposition parties about her competence as defense minister after the remark, which she later retracted without a clear explanation.
As for his quest to revise the pacifist Constitution for the first time, Abe boldly moved to roll his own party in May by making a controversial proposal to rewrite war-renouncing Article 9. He then ordered the LDP to submit fresh amendment proposals to the extraordinary Diet session expected this fall, ignoring previous work on constitutional issues the conservative party had already used as a campaign plank.
There is a good chance the LDP can come up with the proposals by the end of the session, said Abe, who doubles as LDP president.
As the ruling party accelerates work to amend the supreme law, however, some of its members are calling for caution, saying the matter must be dealt with carefully in light of the LDP’s drubbing in the Tokyo poll.
Claiming members of the opposition Democratic Party also recognize a need to discuss his proposal, Abe attempted to play down his move on Article 9.
“The basic stance of politics is to make efforts to form a consensus with as many people as possible,” he said.
Abe’s visit to Sweden was part of a roughly weeklong European tour that has already taken him to Germany for the annual Group of 20 summit. But the prime minister said he will skip Estonia, the final leg of the trip, to return to Japan to address the deadly floods in Kyushu.
“I will swiftly visit the disaster-stricken area and see the situation for myself,” he said.
Abe initially planned to return to Japan on Wednesday but is expected to be back on Tuesday.
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