Mon, Jan 10, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Japanese PM expected to shuffle Cabinet soon

DEVIL YOU KNOW:The PM may be looking to cooperate with New Komeito, whose votes would enable him to pass the budget-related bills needed to enact the budget

Reuters, TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan will have to reshuffle his Cabinet before the legislature opens this month, a ruling party official said yesterday, in the clearest signal yet of a shake-up aimed at improving the government’s approval ratings.

Japanese media said the reshuffle could take place on Jan. 17 and Kan might remove Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, following his censure in the upper house over the handling of fraying ties with China last year.

The move to remove Sengoku, who is the de facto No. 2 in the government, could placate the opposition and help clear the passage of bills in a divided parliament.

“We will open the parliamentary session sometime between Jan. 21 and Jan. 28. A Cabinet reshuffle would be necessary before that,” the secretary-general of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Katsuya Okada, said on -public broadcaster NHK.

Hurdles remain high for Kan as he tries to enact the budget for the year from April, tackle tax reform, improve sagging ratings and calm a fractious DPJ.

The upper house passed non-binding but embarrassing censure motions against Sengoku and the transport minister in November over their handling of a territorial row with China, adding to Kan’s problems.

The two biggest opposition parties, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the New Komeito, said they would boycott parliamentary business if the two stayed on.

Kan is considering replacing Sengoku with Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Kyodo news agency reported. The DPJ’s Deputy Secretary-General Yukio Edano was another possibility for the job, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

Okada declined to comment on details of the reshuffle.

The LDP and the New Komeito maintained their confrontational stance on other fronts, saying the government should present its own plan on social security and tax reforms including the sales tax before they respond to calls for multi-party talks.

“A debate between the ruling and opposition parties from the start would be a waste of time if the basic stance of the government and the ruling party is not clear,” head of the main opposition LDP Sadakazu Tanigaki said.

Japan’s public debt is already about twice the size of its US$5 trillion economy and private economists agree that raising the sales tax is essential to cope with the rising costs of a fast-ageing society.

In order to pass bills needed to implement the 2011-2012 budget, Kan must either cobble together a simple majority in the upper house with opposition help, or build a two-thirds majority in the lower house to override the upper chamber. Okada said that he wants to avoid using the option of overriding votes in the lower house and repeated that the government is willing to revise the budget. He also said that he wants to review the DPJ’s manifesto by mid-year.

The LDP and New Komeito chiefs suggested that the government needs to revise its plans in the budget to rein in debt.

Kan may be eyeing cooperation with the New Komeito, whose votes would be enough to clear the upper house, to help pass the budget-related bills needed to enact the budget, rather than risk voter ire for delaying spending.

However, persuading the New Komeito to play ball will not be easy.

“Our position is to harshly confront [the DPJ] for the people,” New Komeito head Natsuo Yamaguchi said.

Support for Kan, who took office in June as Japan’s fifth premier since 2006, are hovering around 25 percent, and the struggling premier said he understands why a spate of predecessors have left the job in the recent years.

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