TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday dumped arch-conservatives and embraced critical voices in a cabinet revamp he hopes will stem a decline in public support after a series of scandals and missteps. Political blueblood Abe, in office since late December 2012, has pushed a nationalist agenda alongside a massive policy effort to end years of on-off deflation and rejuvenate the world’s third-largest economy.
But he has seen public support rates plummet in the past few months over an array of political troubles, including allegations of favoritism to a friend in a business deal-which Abe strongly denies. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffered a drubbing in local Tokyo elections last month, which analysts and newspapers blamed on an increasing “arrogance” on the part of the prime minister and his government.
“I would like to express deep regret and apologize to the public” for creating mistrust due to various scandals, a chastened Abe said at a televised press conference, bowing for several seconds. Abe, dressed in formal attire after attending a ceremony with his ministers at the Imperial Palace, said he carried out the cabinet changes to restore public confidence in his government.
“We will listen to the voices of the people and pursue politics together with them,” Abe said. He reappointed former defense minister Itsunori Onodera after close ally and fellow nationalist Tomomi Inada resigned from the post last week following a scandal at the ministry over the handling of military documents.
He also tapped a pair of lawmakers who have opposed some of his policies. New foreign minister Taro Kono is the son of a dovish top diplomat known for issuing a landmark 1993 apology as chief cabinet secretary over Japan’s use of “comfort women”-a euphemism for sex slavery-in World War II.
The US-educated 54-year-old Kono is known as an independent-minded,
anti-nuclear power advocate, in sharp contrast to Abe’s support for atomic energy. Kono replaced Fumio Kishida, who served as top diplomat since Abe came to power more than four years ago and is often seen as a future prime minister. Kishida moved to a top post in the LDP. Meanwhile, Seiko Noda, 56, at one time hailed as Japan’s most likely first female prime minister and who in 2015 tried to challenge Abe for the LDP leadership, was named internal affairs minister.
She replaced Sanae Takaichi, another close Abe ally with strongly nationalist views. Inada, the former defense minister, delighted conservatives during her tenure but drew domestic and international criticism in December when she prayed at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo. Returning defense chief Onodera, 57, held the post for nearly two years until September 2014, and has vowed to restore unity and confidence within the ministry. His appointment also comes amid rising tensions surrounding North Korea’s missile development.
Pyongyang launched its latest missile late Friday, just hours after Japan moved to step up sanctions against it following its test in early July of an ICBM capable of reaching parts of the US. “It’s the government’s biggest responsibility to do our best to ensure the safety of the public against this serious and real threat,” Abe said. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, and Taro Aso, who serves as finance minister and deputy prime minister, were among officials who kept their posts. – AFP