Abe shakes up Cabinet, with an eye on revising Constitution

Members of Japan's new Cabinet include (from left) Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Finance Minister Taro Aso and Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Taka
Members of Japan's new Cabinet include (from left) Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Finance Minister Taro Aso and Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi. This is Mr Abe's fifth Cabinet reshuffle since he took office in December 2012. He has reassigned all but two of the 19 portfolios.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Notable faces in Mr Shinzo Abe's Cabinet: (from left) Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Defence Minister Taro Kono, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara, and Olympics and Paralympics Minister and Minister for Gender Equality Seiko Ha
Notable faces in Mr Shinzo Abe's Cabinet: (from left) Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Defence Minister Taro Kono, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara, and Olympics and Paralympics Minister and Minister for Gender Equality Seiko Hashimoto. PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

Japan PM promotes son of former leader, hoping to tap his appeal among youth

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday unveiled his new-look Cabinet in a major reshuffle, as he vowed to spare no effort to achieve his long-held dream of revising the pacifist Constitution.

Another key priority is to make the social security system - buckling under the demands of a fast-ageing population - more robust.

To this end, Mr Abe said the government will look at means to ensure job opportunities until the age of 70 and to encourage later pension drawdowns.

"We are pushing ahead despite multi-faceted challenges in both domestic politics and foreign policy to build a new Japan that is befitting of the Reiwa imperial era," he said, while noting such issues as the ongoing spat with South Korea and an upcoming consumption tax hike.

He added: "It has been a goal since the founding of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to revise the Constitution, and I am determined to make it happen."

This is Mr Abe's fifth Cabinet reshuffle since he took office in December 2012. He reassigned all but two of the 19 portfolios, keeping in place key allies and loyalists Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, 78, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, 70.

Of the remaining 17, two have been given new portfolios and two are returning ministers. The other 13 are new faces, and the new Cabinet has an average age of 61.6 - nearly two years younger than the 63.4 years of the team appointed just 11 months ago.

There are two women ministers, up from one but still fewer than the five in his 2014 Cabinet. The duo are Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi, 58, and Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto, 54, who brings with her the experience of a former Olympian who represented Japan in speed skating and cycling.

Experts see the new team as one appointed with charter revision and succession planning in mind.

 

A name that has garnered outsized attention in Japanese media is that of rising political star Shinjiro Koizumi, 38, who was given a ministerial post for the first time.

The new Environment Minister is Japan's third-youngest Cabinet minister in the post-war era. He regularly tops media surveys as the people's choice for future prime minister, and is himself a political blue blood: his father is former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who was in charge from 2001 to 2006.

The LDP has been tapping the younger Mr Koizumi's star power to campaign for its candidates in elections, and experts see Mr Abe doing the same with the Cabinet appointment in the hope that the young minister's appeal will win over a public that is largely on the fence about constitutional change.

Yet another minister who has been popular with the people is former foreign chief Taro Kono, 56, who replaces Mr Takeshi Iwaya in the Defence Ministry.

Mr Kono has regularly engaged his one million Twitter followers with posts that give insights on the hectic life in the world of diplomacy, while entertaining them with the occasional bizarre tweet, including a viral nonsensical post about bacon in May.

Kobe University security expert Tosh Minohara told The Straits Times: "It is evident that constitutional revision is the most important motive for Abe, who wants to tap Koizumi's star power."

He said Mr Kono's familiarity with foreign policy will be a plus for him as Defence Minister, noting significant overlap, including under the "two-plus-two" defence and foreign ministers framework.

"It will be interesting to see how Kono changes his mindset - you can work with China and Russia on foreign policy but you can't on defence," Dr Minohara said.

Dr Sota Kato, executive director of The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research think-tank, told The Straits Times that while he had found Mr Kono's move somewhat unusual, "the assignment signals to South Korea and other countries that Japan's national security position will not change".

Replacing Mr Kono is Mr Toshimitsu Motegi, 63, whose former role as economic revitalisation minister meant he was Japan's point man in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, and in the upcoming US-Japan trade deal.

Mr Kono and Mr Motegi are among the contenders to replace Mr Abe, who is due to step down in 2021, Dr Kato said, adding that their appointments in high-profile roles will give them an edge.


Japan's new Cabinet line-up

TOKYO • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet, with two ministers staying put and 17 portfolios being reassigned, out of which 13 were given to first-time ministers.

Prime Minister: Mr Shinzo Abe, 64

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister: Mr Taro Aso, 78 (retained)

Chief Cabinet Secretary: Mr Yoshihide Suga, 70 (retained)

Foreign Minister: Mr Toshimitsu Motegi, 63 (former economic revitalisation minister)

Defence Minister: Mr Taro Kono, 56 (former foreign minister)

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister: Mr Isshu Sugawara, 57

Economic Revitalisation Minister: Mr Yasutoshi Nishimura, 56

Olympics and Paralympics Minister and Minister for Gender Equality: Ms Seiko Hashimoto, 54

Environment Minister: Mr Shinjiro Koizumi, 38

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister: Ms Sanae Takaichi, 58 (held the post from 2014 to 2017)

Justice Minister: Mr Katsuyuki Kawai, 56

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister: Mr Koichi Hagiuda, 56

Health, Labour and Welfare Minister: Mr Katsunobu Kato, 63 (held the post from 2017-2018)

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister: Mr Taku Eto, 59

Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister: Mr Kazuyoshi Akaba, 61

Reconstruction Minister: Mr Kazunori Tanaka, 70

Regional Revitalisation Minister: Mr Seigo Kitamura, 72

Information Technology Minister: Mr Naokazu Takemoto, 78

Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission: Mr Ryota Takeda, 51

Minister for Promoting the Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens: Mr Seiichi Eto, 71

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2019, with the headline 'Abe shakes up Cabinet, with an eye on revising Constitution'. Print Edition | Subscribe