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Japan: Fukuda Overhauls Cabinet

TOKYO, JAPAN: Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on Friday (1 Aug) reshuffled his Cabinet, after shaking up his Liberal Democratic Party executive lineup earlier in the day by appointing one-time rival and former LDP Secretary General Taro Aso to the party's No. 2 position.

Aso's appointment is believed to be aimed at unifying the party in the lead-up to the next House of Representatives election, according to observers.

Focusing on fiscal rehabilitation, LDP President Fukuda appointed former LDP Secretary General Bunmei Ibuki as finance minister and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano as state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy.

Fukuda termed the new Cabinet as the "Cabinet for realising peace of mind."

Fukuda, whose support rates have been languishing in recent months, will now try to energise his administration with the new lineups in government as well as his party.

The new Cabinet will officially kick off after an attestation ceremony at the Imperial Palace scheduled for Saturday morning (2 Aug).

This was the first reshuffle of Fukuda's Cabinet since its 26 Sept launch.

Only four of the 17 ministers have been retained from the outgoing Cabinet: Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura; Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura; Health, Labour and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe; and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Hiroya Masuda.

Fukuda also appointed veteran policy experts to several posts.

Former LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Sadakazu Tanigaki was picked as construction and transport minister, while former LDP General Council Chairman Toshihiro Nikai and former Justice Minister Okiharu Yasuoka were assigned to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and the Justice Ministry, respectively.

New Komeito party policy chief Tetsuo Saito was chosen as environment minister.

Yoshimasa Hayashi, an LDP House of Councillors member, was appointed as defence minister. He will be responsible for extending the new antiterrorism law that was established 11 Jan on a second vote in the lower house after its rejection by the opposition-controlled upper house.

This is the first Cabinet assignment for Hayashi.

Fukuda named former Posts and Telecommunications Minister Seiko Noda to the newly created post of state minister in charge of consumer affairs, one of priority administrative missions of the Fukuda administration. Noda will be in charge of bills related to the establishment of a consumer affairs agency.

Fukuda promoted Kyoko Nakayama, special advisor to the prime minister in charge of the abduction issue, as state minister in charge of the declining birthrate and abduction issues.

Nakayama enjoys the strong confidence of the families of people abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and '80s.

In total, five members were assigned to their first Cabinet jobs, while the number of female ministers stays at two.

In the shakeup involving four major LDP executive posts, former Home Affairs Minister Kosuke Hori was picked as the head of the Policy Research Council. He belongs to no party faction.

Lower house member Takashi Sasagawa got the General Council chairman's post, due to strong demand by the Tsushima faction, the second-largest LDP faction led by Yuji Tsushima.

Of the four top LDP executives, Election Strategy Council Chairman Makoto Koga retained his post.

In the Cabinet and party executive reshuffles, Fukuda gave ministerial or major LDP posts to six of eight LDP faction heads, while all eight factions secured ministerial posts.

Fukuda picked Hori and Noda, from among the so-called postal rebels, who left the LDP after opposing former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's postal privatisation policy but returned to the party in December 2006, in Fukuda's effort to build party unity.

On Friday night (1 Aug), Fukuda held a press conference in which he said the new Cabinet lineup is pro-consumer.

"The mission of this Cabinet is to realize and carry out policies [for consumers]," Fukuda said.

"Since I assumed the premiership, I have been proceeding with reform bearing in mind the perspective of the people, aiming at changing the direction of politics and administration for the sake of the nation's citizens," Fukuda said.

"However, it is also the reality that people's daily life has become very difficult due to the surging gasoline and food prices."

On Friday morning, Fukuda held a meeting in his capacity as LDP head with New Komeito head Akihiro Ota to formally decide to proceed with the Cabinet reshuffle later in the day.

The Cabinet then resigned en masse in the afternoon at an extraordinary meeting, when the ministers submitted letters of resignation to Fukuda.

Later, he chose the new LDP executive lineup. At night, Fukuda decided upon the new Cabinet lineup at the Prime Minister's Office, together with Ota and the new LDP executives.

The appointment of the popular Aso was apparently made with the next lower house election in mind, as the LDP is believed to be in danger of being defeated by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

When asked whether he intends to dissolve the lower house, Fukuda replied that current social and economic conditions require the implementation of necessary policies, rather than moving toward dissolution.

"In that situation I'm not thinking about immediately dissolving the lower house," he said.

Fukuda also commented on whether he would increase the consumption tax, given the appointments of Yosano and Tanigaki who are supporters of a tax increase.

He denied there would be an immediate increase in the consumption tax rate from the current 5 percent.

Senior vice ministers will be announced Tuesday (5 Aug), while parliamentary secretaries will be announced Wednesday (6 Aug).

Of the three deputy Cabinet secretaries, Masahiro Futahashi for administrative affairs and Mitsuhide Iwaki for parliamentary affairs retained their posts, while Matsushige Ono for parliamentary affairs was replaced by Ryu Shionoya.

Shionoya and Ono are from the same Machimura-led LDP faction.

Cabinet Legislation Bureau chief Reiichi Miyazaki also retained his job. (The Yomiuri Shimbun/ ANN)

MySinchew 2008.08.02


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