Japan’s Abe shakes up Cabinet, brings in rising star

AFP, TOKYO

Thu, Sep 12, 2019 - Page 1

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday appointed new foreign and defense ministers and promoted a popular rising political star in a Cabinet reshuffle that fueled speculation over the prime minister’s successor.

The spectacular appointment as environment minister of the telegenic Shinjiro Koizumi, the 38-year-old son of much-loved former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, set tongues wagging in Tokyo political classes as the Abe era draws to a close.

“Abe intends to start an open race to pick the next prime minister or even the one after that,” SMBC Nikko Securities chief market economist Yoshimasa Maruyama said.

A darling of the Japanese media, Shinjiro Koizumi received blanket coverage for his recent marriage to television broadcaster Christel Takigawa, which was announced at the prime minister’s office.

He is the third-youngest minister appointed to the Cabinet in Japan since the end of World War II, in a country where seniority is prized in politics and many other walks of life.

Despite intense media spotlight, he has been coy on expressing his view on the issues of the day and there will be close scrutiny over his policies on nuclear power, particularly on whether he will break with his father’s anti-nuclear stance.

Abe is set to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in November, but is expected to step down at the Liberal Democratic Party leadership election in 2021 and jostling for the position is already beginning.

Japan’s new minister of foreign affairs is Toshimitsu Motegi, who was promoted as a reward for his work in negotiating a trade deal with the US.

Outgoing Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono was shifted to the defense portfolio, in a move seen as reinforcing Tokyo’s hard line toward South Korea.

Abe retained the services of his trusted associate Taro Aso as deputy prime minister and minister of finance, as well as Yoshihide Suga as the chief Cabinet secretary.

Abe also kept key allies and aides within the Cabinet and top layers of the party to shore up his position for the next two years.

Among other key figures are former Olympic speed skater Seiko Hashimoto, who became the latest in a string of Olympic ministers ahead of the 2020 summer Games. Hashimoto is one of just two women out of 19 in the new cabinet despite Abe’s much-heralded “womenomics” program. His previous Cabinet included just one woman.

The other woman is Sanae Takaichi, appointed as minister of internal affairs and communications. She is seen as a hard-right nationalist, who regularly visits the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo that enrages South Korea and China.