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When Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi launched his Cabinet on April 26, 2000, he made a public pledge to the effect that he would not shuffle his Cabinet for an unjustifiable purpose. On Monday, he carried out his first Cabinet change allegedly for the purpose of accelerating structural reforms — the Koizumi administration’s declared policy goal.

With six members replaced by younger politicians or ones experienced in practical affairs, the change was greater than expected. In particular, Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Heizo Takenaka, an active advocator for reforms, was appointed to concurrently serve in the post of Financial Affairs, which was vacated by the departure of Hakuo Yanagisawa. Cabinet ministers in charge of the National Safety Commission and Defense Agency were also replaced. These changes are understandable in light of the increasing importance of financial and security issues.

However, the revival — for no apparent good reason — of the traditional practice of allocating two Cabinet portfolios to Upper House members runs counter to Mr. Koizumi’s statement that he would avoid factional considerations and seniority-based practices in making Cabinet appointments. If he had been serious about carrying out his pledge to place the right person in the right post, he should have abolished the portfolio allocation, which has long been considered a vested interest for factions within the Liberal Democratic Party.

In July, when a plunge in public support for the Koizumi administration, which had been touched off by the dismissal of former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, reached a low point, Mr. Koizumi reluctantly but unavoidably referred to the possibility of a Cabinet reshuffle. At that time, the public could have viewed such a move as justifiable. Now, however, he has scored a measure of success with the recent Pyongyang summit and his Cabinet’s popularity rating has rebounded to above 60 percent.

Many people, therefore, are left speculating that Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle was prompted more by the behind-the scenes dynamics of party politics than by any other factor.

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