Abe to reshuffle Cabinet with eye on extending term

TOKYO • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks set to put priority on stability when he rejigs his Cabinet and top party line-up, retaining key ministers and tapping a veteran lawmaker who favours big spending as the ruling party's No. 2.

The reshuffle set for today comes as Mr Abe tries to rev up economic growth and handle multiple diplomatic challenges, and eyes the possibility of staying in office after his term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president ends in 2018.

Mr Abe, already Japan's longest-ruling premier in a decade, will likely retain his right-hand man, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, along with Finance Minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, media reports said.

All three have held their posts since Mr Abe took office in December 2012, pledging to reboot the deflation-plagued economy and bolster Japan's global diplomatic and security presence.

LDP policy chief Tomomi Inada, a hawkish Abe ally and potential premier, will get a portfolio - possibly defence, trade or agriculture - while Economics Minister Nobuteru Ishihara may be retained, along with Health, Welfare and Labour Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki, said the reports. Public broadcaster NHK said Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko will be Trade and Industry Minister.

The Asahi newspaper said yesterday that Ms Inada will likely be defence minister, which may upset China and South Korea, given her conservative views on wartime history.

Ms Inada, 57, shares Mr Abe's goal of revising the post-war, pacifist Constitution, seen by some conservatives as a humiliating symbol of Japan's World War II defeat.

She regularly visits Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honours war dead and is seen in China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan's past militarism. She would be the second woman in the defence post after newly elected Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike briefly held it in 2007.

Japanese media said another would-be successor, Minister for Regional Revitalisation Shigeru Ishiba, is considering declining to stay in the Cabinet to prepare for a run at Japan's top job when Mr Abe's term ends in September 2018.

Today, Mr Abe will also recast the LDP executive line-up. His expected appointment of Mr Toshihiro Nikai, 77, a big-spending advocate with friendly ties to China, as LDP secretary-general is seen by analysts as signalling the premier's hopes for a third term, since Mr Nikai has already indicated his support for the extension, which would require a change in party rules.

"Abe is seeking to perpetuate his power. He is not grooming any successor other than Inada, and she won't be ready yet," said Professor Koichi Nakano at Sophia University.

Yesterday, Mr Abe's current Cabinet approved 13.5 trillion yen (S$178 billion) in fiscal steps as part of efforts to revive the economy.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline 'Abe to reshuffle Cabinet with eye on extending term'. Print Edition | Subscribe