The lineup of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s new Cabinet, formed Monday, shows his determination to put finishing touches on his reforms in the rather short time left for him. He has made clear that he will step down in September 2006. Mr. Koizumi included in his new Cabinet three politicians from his Liberal Democratic Party who are widely regarded as possible contenders to succeed him.

He also retained Mr. Heizo Takenaka, an economics professor-turned-politician who has been a main force for pushing Mr. Koizumi’s reform policies. Mr. Takenaka has served in ecomomic-policy-related Cabinet posts since Mr. Koizumi came into office. He also assigned a Cabinet post to Mr. Kaoru Yosano, who has been serving as the LDP’s policy chief.

Mr. Koizumi apparently wants to have these politicians vie with each other and exert efforts to substantiate his policies. This way, Mr. Koizumi will be able to see who follows his political agenda most faithfully. Such an arrangement could help increase his grip as the top leader of the ruling party and the government.

The three LDP politicians, whose Cabinet assignments draw special attention, are Mr. Shinzo Abe, former deputy chief Cabinet secretary and LDP secretary general; Mr. Taro Aso, minister of internal affairs and communications in the previous Cabinet; and Mr. Sadakazu Tanigaki, finance minister in the previous Cabinet. Except for Mr. Aso, who has assumed the post of foreign minister in the new Cabinet, Mr. Abe and Mr. Tanigaki will serve in positions directly responsible for implementing Mr. Koizumi’s key policies.

Finance Minister Tanigaki will ensure continuity in the task of reconstructing national finances. Mr. Abe, the new chief Cabinet secretary and a popular conservative with a tough stance toward China and North Korea, will be Prime Minister Koizumi’s alter ego. Besides serving as a Cabinet spokesman, he will coordinate among government ministries and agencies to integrate government endeavors so that they attain Mr. Koizumi’s policy goals.

In addition to the nation’s financial reconstruction, the new Cabinet must solve issues such as possible tax increases, reform of pension and medical services, reduction of civil servant personnel costs in the central and local governments, transfer of more tax money to local governments, and the reform of government-affiliated financial institutions.

Mr. Takenaka was appointed minister for internal affairs and communications and for postal reform. To help achieve small government, he has the task of implementing postal reform, reducing government subsidies by 4 trillion yen and transferring 3 trillion yen to local governments. His duties will also include reducing the personnel costs of public servants.

Mr. Yosano was given the key post of state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy and financial services. His job will be to reform the eight government-affiliated financial institutions. With his experience as an LDP policy chief, he is expected to see that no discrepancy exists between the government’s position and the wishes of LDP politicians.

Among the issues to be addressed, social security is probably what people are most concerned about, as Mr. Koizumi himself said in a news conference Monday. The government should do its utmost to extend social security protections into the future. If an increase in the public financial burden is necessary, the government should drastically cut waste in government and ensure that the increased burden is reasonable and equitable to maintain people’s confidence in the social safety net.

In the diplomatic field, there is a pressing need to improve relations with neighboring countries, especially China and South Korea, which have soured due to Mr. Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine. The government also must do its utmost to make successful the six-nation talks on resolving the issues of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons development and the past abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents.

In the previous Koizumi Cabinet, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda refrained from visiting Yasukuni Shrine, thus striking a balance with Mr. Koizumi’s visits to the shrine, a symbol of Japan’s militarism in the 1930s and ’40s. With the new chief Cabinet secretary, Mr. Abe, hinting that he will visit the shrine, suspicions may deepen among neighboring countries that Japan is trying to justify its past colonialism and war of aggression.

New Foreign Minister Aso may have been a bit off the mark when he said Monday that the good relations between Japan and China in the economic and cultural fields should be emphasized. It is his important job to make serious efforts to put overall political relations between the two countries on a normal path as well.

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