• Kyodo

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In a move aimed at shoring up his falling support rate, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was to appoint Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to a key post in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, while reinstating veteran Itsunori Onodera as defense minister in a Thursday Cabinet reshuffle, LDP and government sources said Wednesday.

In the shake-up, Kishida — who is temporarily serving as defense chief after the abrupt resignation of Tomomi Inada — is expected to be appointed chairman of the party’s central policy-making body, a move in line with his wishes, the sources said.

Abe is hoping that reorganizing his Cabinet will help stem his falling approval ratings, which have plunged following accusations of cronyism in the construction of a new veterinary school to be run by a friend, as well as an alleged cover-up at the Defense Ministry.

The alleged cover-up, which involved logs monitoring Ground Self-Defense Force peacekeepers in South Sudan, cost Abe-protege Inada her job and left the prime minister reeling.

Other moves will likely see education minister Hirokazu Matsuno, who has faced intense pressure over allegations that Abe influenced the approval process for the construction of the school, replaced by former agriculture minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, the sources said.

As for defense minister, Abe is set to return veteran lawmaker Onodera to the post he held for nearly two years from December 2012, when Abe began his second stint in power.

LDP policy chief Toshimitsu Motegi, meanwhile, is expected to serve as economic and fiscal policy minister and concurrently assume a newly created post in charge of overseeing investment in human resources development, the sources said.

Abe is also considering giving senior LDP lawmaker Seiko Noda a ministerial post, they added.

Noda, who has served as chairwoman of the LDP General Council and postal minister, is known to have a chilly relationship with Abe and launched an aborted attempt at challenging him in the party’s September 2015 presidential race.

Noda, who was once touted as a candidate to become the nation’s first female leader, does not belong to any faction within the party.

Abe is apparently hoping to bolster party unity by appointing some new members to his Cabinet who are likely to cast a more critical eye amid his sagging support rate and the LDP’s historic drubbing in the July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.

Kishida, viewed as a front-runner to succeed Abe as leader, was initially expected to retain his current post, but Abe has apparently deferred to his wishes to instead serve in the LDP leadership. Kishida is set to leave the Cabinet after manning the foreign minister portfolio for more than four years.

The prime minister has already decided to keep some core members in the Cabinet and party leadership, including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and Vice President Masahiko Komura, according to the sources.

Abe, who concurrently serves as LDP president, plans to appoint Diet affairs chief Wataru Takeshita as chairman of the LDP General Council and former education minister Ryu Shionoya as head of the party’s election strategy committee, the sources said. Hiroshi Moriyama, a former agriculture minister, will likely take over Takeshita’s slot.

The new Cabinet will be officially launched after a ceremony at the Imperial Palace, while the ruling party will decide on the new executive posts at a meeting Thursday morning.

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