Japan PM revamps Cabinet to reverse flagging public support

Noriyuki Suzuki, Kyodo News

Posted at Aug 10 2022 06:31 PM

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida EPA-EFE
Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at the Prime Minister's office in Tokyo, Japan, May 9, 2022. Jiji Press Japan/EPA-EFE

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his Cabinet on Wednesday, giving key posts to familiar faces with proven records, in a bid to reverse flagging public support and steer clear of dubious ties with a religious group spotlighted by the killing of former premier Shinzo Abe.

Kishida hopes the renewal will pave the way for a long-term, stable administration to tackle what he has described as "the biggest challenges of the postwar era," ranging from COVID-19 and inflation to Russia's war in Ukraine and heightened tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

Kishida also unveiled a new lineup of Liberal Democratic Party executives at a time of intensifying public scrutiny over the ruling party's relationship with the Unification Church, after Abe was fatally shot on July 8, two days before a national election, by a man whose mother was a devoted follower of the religious group.

Yasukazu Hamada, who was defense minister between 2008 and 2009, returned to the job, as Japan seeks to reinforce the capability of its forces through increased spending in a rapidly changing security environment.

Hamada replaced Nobuo Kishi, the younger brother of Abe. It is apparently due to health reasons, but Kishi admitted he had received help from the Unification Church in past elections.

Former economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura will serve as industry minister, taking over from Koichi Hagiuda, who moves to the pivotal post of LDP policy chief.

Kishida's personnel choices reflect his desire to retain the support of conservative members who belong to the largest LDP faction formerly led by Abe, a necessity to shore up his support as party leader and therefore prime minister. Both Hagiuda and Nishimura are members of the faction.

The 65-year-old premier also placed importance on policy continuation as Japan faces growing security threats from China, North Korea and Russia, and economic risks from surging prices and COVID-19 cases.

Those who retained their posts are Kishida's right-hand man, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki. From the LDP's junior coalition partner of Komeito, Tetsuo Saito will continue to serve as land minister.

Nine members took their first Cabinet posts.

The controversy over the church, now formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, began after Abe's assailant told investigators that his mother's donations to the religious group had ruined their family's fortunes and he held a grudge against it.

The accused, Tetsuya Yamagami, believed Abe had connections with the church, founded in South Korea in the 1950s, according to investigators.

Prior to Wednesday's revamp, Kishida said all new Cabinet members and LDP executives should check and review their ties to the contentious group.

Followers of the church have been convicted in Japan in connection with money illegally obtained from people through the use of threats, including the citing of "ancestral karma."

Kishida's new Cabinet includes LDP policy chief Sanae Takaichi, known for her hawkish security views that resonated with Abe, as economic security minister. The party's outspoken PR chief Taro Kono, who was foreign minister between 2017 and 2019, was named digitization minister.

In last year's LDP presidential race, Kishida defeated Takaichi and Kono, who was then seen as the favorite among the public to become prime minister.

The Cabinet and LDP leadership makeovers came exactly a month after the ruling coalition clinched a sweeping victory in the House of Councillors election.

"The biggest challenge is to bolster our diplomacy and security policy as the security environment around Japan is increasingly severe," Hagiuda said at a press conference.

Hagiuda, who has admitted that he gave a guest speech at an event linked to the Unification Church, said he will carefully consider any participation in the future as public concerns have grown.

The roster of LDP executives has been closely watched for any indications of change in Kishida's approach to intraparty power dynamics.

Representing the second- and third-largest intraparty factions, Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi and Vice President Taro Aso retained their posts.

Hiroshi Moriyama, who supported former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga with LDP heavyweight Toshihiro Nikai, will be in charge of the election strategy committee.

The selection of Moriyama, known for his coordination skills gained as Diet affairs chief under Abe and Suga, means Kishida is also taking heed of members who have retreated to the sidelines and distanced themselves from the current government, in an apparent effort to keep the party united.

Slipping public support is causing concern for Kishida, with voters in recent media polls asking for clarity over the relationship between the Unification Church and the LDP as well as an explanation for why a state funeral on Sept. 27 for Abe is necessary.

For the past 10 months in office, Kishida has enjoyed relatively strong public support, with priority given to the government's COVID-19 response and steps to fight accelerating inflation that he has blamed largely on Russia's war in Ukraine.

In a Kyodo News poll released in late July, the approval rating for Kishida's Cabinet dropped to 51.0 percent, the lowest since he took office, from a record high of 63.2 percent just weeks ago.

Key events after the personnel changes include work to draw up a budget for the next fiscal year from April, the state funeral for Abe and a review of national security strategy and defense policy documents.

==Kyodo

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