Unpopular Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso abandoned yesterday a revamp of his top party line-up in the face of opposition from party heavyweights, managing only to name two new Cabinet ministers ahead of a tough election.
Aso, whose ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is in danger of losing the election that must be held by October, was considering announcing plans to dissolve the lower house of parliament for a poll early next month, Japanese newspapers said.
Polls have shown the main opposition Democratic Party ahead, boosting chances of an end to more than five decades of almost unbroken rule by the conservative LDP and resolution of a political deadlock that has stymied polices as Japan struggles with recession.
Aso relieved Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano of his economics portfolio, passing it to policy expert and former defense minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.
He also named a new head for the National Public Safety Administration, but analysts said the changes would make little difference in either policy or politics.
“It’s too little, too late. It’s very unlikely that this is going to save public approval for this administration,” said Naomi Fink, Japan macro strategist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.
Aso denied he had planned a broader revamp but party figures had openly talked about their opposition to more substantial changes to refresh the leadership line-up ahead of the election.
Yoshitaka Murata, the LDP’s deputy head of parliamentary affairs, had told reporters he was against a personnel change, and that aides to Aso were leading the prime minister astray.
“I wish they would stop giving him advice. I want them to be quiet,” Murata said.
Analysts say Aso, whose ratings have sunk below 20 percent in some polls, had hoped to boost his standing with voters by appointing telegenic lawmakers to key party posts and clear the way for an election before moves to oust him gather steam.
Some in the party found that logic perplexing, since Aso had decided the line-up himself when he took office last September.
“The prime minister picked them himself and it is rude to then say they lack appeal,” the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper quoted an upper house senior lawmaker as saying.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura, who has had to help Aso get out of hot water in the past, said he thought the prime minister had only planned to relieve ministers such as Yosano of their heavy workloads.
“The prime minister has thought for some time that ministers should not have multiple portfolios forever,” Kawamura said. “I think that is what he had in mind.”
Aso might make public his plan to dissolve the lower house right before or during a G8 summit in Italy next week to avoid having his hands tied by potentially poor results in a July 12 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, media said.
But Aso’s LDP critics are also opposed to rushing into a vote that some forecast could see the party lose almost half of its 303 seats in the 480-member lower house.
Yosano had added the finance and financial services portfolios to his economics minister post when Aso ally Shoichi Nakagawa quit in February after being forced to deny he was drunk at a G7 news conference.
Speculation had been simmering that Asp might tap Hideo Higashikokubaru, a comedian-turned-governor with national political ambitions, for a Cabinet post but no such move was announced.