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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #251: September 28, 2004

Japan's Leader Shuffles Cabinet to Push Economic Reforms

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Japan's Leader Shuffles Cabinet to Push Economic Reforms"
James Brooke, The New York Times


September 27 was the 1,252th day for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, holding the fifth position with regard to the length of time in office among all the PMs after WWII. If he stays in the position until his term expires as the president of LDP, which is two more years, he will be in the third place, only after Messrs Sato and Yoshida.

Mr Koizumi made changes to his Cabinet on September 27 for the third time since he took office in 2001. The response of people has been generally subdued, however, one reason being that there has been no "surprise" appointments of popular - but often controversial - characters by Mr Koizumi as in the past. Another reason, perhaps, is that the lineup is in a way fairly obvious once Mr Koizumi's strong determination in pursuing his agenda, above all the postal reform, is fully appreciated.

The biggest "surprise" in the sequence of forming the new team was not in the cabinet members but rather in choosing Mr Takebe as the Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The Secretary General is the position second in rank only after the President of the party, Mr Koizumi himself, and takes care of most of party affairs including elections and budgets. The position was previously held by Mr Abe, a very popular figure among public for his tough stance against North Korea, but was held responsible for the results of the upper house election in July, in which the LDP did not win as much as originally planned.

Mr Takebe was not necessarily considered a major figure in the LDP. Although he had served a number of positions within the party, and once as the Farm Minister, it came as a surprise to the party members, as well as to the commentators, that he would be placed in a senior position such as this. Mr Takebe, however, had been known for being a strong supporter of Mr Koizumi and his policies.

Later in the day, as the new cabinet members were disclosed, Mr Koizumi's intentions became more obvious. The Prime Minister picked the new team to strongly pursue his agendas, while very little consideration was given to the representation of, and the balance among, various factions within the LDP.

Heizo Takenaka was assigned to the key role of the newly established Postal Reform Minister. He is the only person who has stayed in Mr Koizumi's cabinets since the inception of the regime, and has maintained his position as the Economy Minister as well. Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and Trade Minister Shoichi Nakagawa also retained their positions. Foreign minister was assigned to Mr Machimura, an established politician but diplomatic capabilities now well known. The former Foreign Minister Ms Kawaguchi was relieved apparently because she was not a member of the diet. As there are many diplomatic agendas ahead, it was considered better for a diet member, elected by the people, to make political decisions than a professional no matter how the person is versed in the task.

Although some complain that there was no "surprise" element in the members, the average age of the new cabinet members has become 57.6 years old, which is the youngest in modern history.

Comments and evaluations coming out of Japanese media on the new cabinet have been mixed. Among major newspaper editorials, the more "conservative" Yomiuri and Sankei have expressed general support by saying that as the selection of members was made with little consideration to the old guard and vested interest, it would become an effective team to realize the Koizumi reform. On the other hand, the more "liberal" Asahi and Mainichi are rather skeptical, saying that the new cabinet could bog down as it was not established with the support from all the major factions within the LDP, and that there is no star player to amuse and win popularity of the general public.

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