By Satoshi Sekoguchi
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe retained his key cabinet members, such as the ministers of finance and foreign affairs, but appointed eight new members in the cabinet reshuffle conducted after the House of Councillors election. As Abe himself says, the top priority of the third Abe cabinet is the revitalization of Japan’s economy. Since Abenomics has remained “halfway through” for some time now, newspapers were harsh in their editorials.
Sankei Shimbun wrote: “The new cabinet lineup should step up the process of ending deflation and build the foundation for sustainable growth driven by private sector demand. What the Prime Minister needs to do is to exercise strong leadership in order to accelerate growth under this lineup.”
Nikkei asked the new cabinet “not to avoid but to face up to the difficult issues, such as social security and labor reform, in order to enhance Japan’s economic growth potential.”
Abe has set labor reform as the “greatest challenge” of his new cabinet. He created a new ministerial post for this. Along with regional revitalization and the dynamic engagement of all citizens, labor reform policies will be implemented to improve economic growth potential.
There was no disagreement with the need to rectify long working hours and realize equal pay for equal work. However, Yomiuri Shimbun voiced the following concern: “Recently the cabinet tends to create too many ministerial positions to take charge of new polices. This results in complicated and confusing division of labor among ministers and further fractionalizes the bureaucratic organizations in charge, resulting in inefficiency.”
Minister for the Dynamic Engagement of all Citizens Katsunobu Kato serves concurrently as the minister for labor reform. While Sankei conceded that this is a reasonable arrangement based on what the job involves, it pointed out that labor policy is the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare’s (MHLW) jurisdiction. If Kato and the MHLW “differ in policy direction on the same issue, this would rather undermine policy implementation.”
Kato is also in charge of the abduction issue. In an editorial on Aug. 5, Sankei voiced the concern that assigning this new duty to Kato may send the “wrong message” to North Korea that the abduction issue is a low priority for the Abe administration.
With its recent landslide victory in the Upper House election, the Abe cabinet’s political base has never been stronger. Furthermore, if the House of Representatives is not dissolved, there will be no national elections in the next two years. Asahi Shimbun asked the question how the administration intends to use the political assets of overwhelming numerical strength and ample time. Although Abe is keen on constitutional revision, Asahi stressed that “there are other political priorities for Japan. There is the question of how to deal with Japan’s exceptional state of an aging population coupled with low fertility rate and pass on a sustainable society to the next generations. That would probably be what the majority of the people want the government to work on.” (Slightly abridged)