Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s upcoming reshuffle of the cabinet and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership is aimed at rehabilitating his administration in light of the sharp decline in the cabinet’s support ratings and the LDP’s historic defeat in the recent Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.
His choice of Tomomi Inada’s successor as defense minister will be a key issue. The Defense Ministry fell into disarray over the question of the Self-Defense Forces’ activity logs in South Sudan. There is now an opinion in favor of appointing a former defense minister because Inada, who has little knowledge of defense, was criticized for “failing to control the ministry.” The names of House of Representatives members Itsunori Onodera and Gen Nakatani and former Regional Revitalization Minister Shigeru Ishiba have come up.
Abe intends to retain Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, and LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, who form the “backbone” of his administration. A decision has also been made to retain Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Keiichi Ishii from Komeito.
In his previous cabinet reshuffles, Abe had appointed mid-ranking and veteran Diet members from the various LDP factions aspiring for a cabinet job. While this was meant to alleviate discontent in the party, scandals and gaffes by rookie ministers have hurt his administration. A source at the Kantei [Prime Minister’s Official Residence] asserts that “this method would be fine when an administration is strong, but right now, another scandal would be fatal. The reshuffled cabinet could even consist of only politicians who have experience serving as cabinet members.”
Although there was once an idea to appoint former Economic Revitalization Minister Akira Amari as one of the three top LDP executives, this has been dropped for fear of a backlash against the administration. While Amari is a close ally of Abe, he resigned in January 2016 over a money scandal.
There is an opinion in the LDP that Abe should appoint people like Ishiba or former General Council chair Seiko Noda, who keep distance from him, to give the impression that “he also listens to dissenters,” according to a mid-ranking lawmaker. However, people close to Ishiba, who aspires to become prime minister after Abe, are not keen on his joining the cabinet. (Slightly abridged)