• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering replacing beleaguered Defense Minister Tomomi Inada with one of her predecessors in the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle early next month, sources close to the government and ruling coalition said Wednesday.

Inada faces mounting questions about her competency, including allegations she tried to hide an inconvenient development in the handling of controversial data that documented Japanese peacekeepers’ activities in a U.N. mission in South Sudan, an accusation she strongly denies.

The former defense ministers thought to be possible picks are Itsunori Onodera, Yoshimasa Hayashi, Yasukazu Hamada and Inada’s immediate predecessor, Gen Nakatani, all lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Other sources suggest LDP policy chief Toshimitsu Motegi could be suitable. He has not held the defense portfolio before but has experience as trade minister and in positions of responsibility within the party.

There are also suggestions Abe should give several other ministerial posts to lawmakers with previous Cabinet experience, to reduce the likelihood of further scandals or verbal gaffes.

Approval ratings for the Abe Cabinet have plunged in recent weeks amid claims the prime minister influenced a government decision to benefit a friend of his.

Inada’s perceived incompetence has added to the sense of distrust and prompted criticism from both ruling and opposition parties.

Inada has been questioned as part of an internal probe into the handling of the Ground Self-Defense Force troops’ activity logs, the results of which could be released as early as Friday.

Inada has also been slammed for a remark she made during campaigning for the recent Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, in which she effectively pledged the Self-Defense Forces’ support for an LDP candidate.

The comment was seen as contravening the forces’ political neutrality, and although she apologized, damage was done. The LDP suffered a resounding defeat in the election earlier this month, with many observers blaming her comment for helping the party’s defeat.

A source close to the LDP said Inada’s replacement “must be someone who can form a relationship of trust with SDF personnel.”

Some observers have attributed a flurry of revelations about the minister’s alleged role in the suspected coverup to dissatisfaction within the GSDF about the direction in which the internal probe appears to be heading.

Abe is likely to retain Keiichi Ishii, the only minister from the LDP’s junior coalition partner, Komeito, as transport minister.

Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi is expected to ask the prime minister to keep Ishii on after a party meeting on Thursday.

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