The members of the re-reshuffled cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were chosen with a view to cap off his long term of office. We hope Abe will squarely face social security system reform, constitutional amendment, and other issues related to the future of the nation and chart a course for their achievement.
Abe has re-reshuffled his fourth cabinet. It is the first cabinet reshuffle and first overhaul of the Liberal Democratic Party leadership since October 2018. Abe told reporters: “We’ll work for bold reforms without being bound by old ideas. It’s a cabinet of stability and of rising to challenges.”
Abe retained Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, core members of the cabinet. He also reappointed Toshihiro Nikai as LDP secretary general. Otherwise the prime minister made a sweeping change in the lineup of cabinet ministers, bringing in 13 new ministers.
Appointing “post-Abe” candidates to key posts
Abe may have intended to emphasize reform while maintaining stability. He also gave consideration to the wishes of LDP intraparty factions. These indicate that Abe intends to once again solidify party unity to maintain his grip on power with just two years left in his term as LDP president.
The prime minister appointed to the cabinet many lawmakers who are close to him. He must exercise leadership so that each cabinet minister correctly implements policies.
Abe retained in key cabinet and party leadership his potential successors. He retained LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida, who leads his own intraparty faction, and appointed economic revitalization minister Toshimitsu Motegi, a heavyweight in the LDP faction led by Wataru Takeshita, to the post of foreign minister, which is on a par with his current post.
Suga is gaining broader support primarily from the LDP’s unaffiliated lawmakers. Shinjiro Koizumi was named environment minister, though he is just in his fourth term as a member of the Lower House. He is very popular among the public.
Abe is set to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister ever in November, when he will overtake Taro Katsura. His having steadily dealt with domestic and international challenges has propelled him to back-to-back wins in national elections.
While Abe’s presence is conspicuous, candidates to succeed him are generally inconspicuous. Will they be able to distinguish themselves in the new cabinet and party leadership? It is going to be the moment of truth for them.
Under the 1955 political system dominated by the ruling LDP, faction leaders fought for the premiership by relying on numerical superiority. Fierce power struggles led to plutocracy but also vitalized the party.
Prime ministerial candidates are required to formulate policies in their respective positions and compete with each in their ability to implement them.
The Abe government is reaching the final stage. All eyes are on what it will achieve and the course it will chart for the next government. The Abe government must prioritize issues from medium- and long-term perspectives and strategically work for their implementation.
Create a virtuous economic cycle
The re-reshuffled cabinet should first focus on economic policy.
Though corporate profits and employment indicators have improved, we do not feel an economic recovery. The cabinet needs to create a virtuous economic cycle that can lead wage hikes to consumption.
The increasingly fierce trade friction between the U.S. and China is casting a shadow over the future of the Japanese economy. It is important for the government to closely monitor economic trends and take measures appropriate to the situation.
The consumption tax rate will be raised to 10% on Oct. 1. The tax provides stable revenue for maintaining the social security system. So the tax hike needs to be implemented without any confusion.
Japan will enter a super-aging society ahead of the rest of the world. The government should create an environment for many people to work as long as they can so that they can contribute to the social security system. It also needs to assist the young generation in child-rearing to halt the decline in the birthrate. For these purposes, the government must build a social security system for all generations, a goal set by the prime minister.
It is unavoidable to ask senior citizens with extra money to shoulder a greater burden in order to maintain the social security system.
The prime minister said he will set up a new council for the system’s reform. He needs to carefully discuss the issue and make efforts to broaden understanding for a reform that will be painful.
The opposition bloc may have no objection to the necessity of social security system reform. The ruling and opposition blocs should deepen discussions by removing the barriers between them without making social security system reform a political issue.
Abe will also be tested in his diplomatic skill to persuade U.S. President Donald Trump, who has embraced an “America First” policy, to restore international harmony.
Environment for constitutional discussions needs to be created
The security situation in East Asia requires vigilance. North Korea is developing ballistic missiles. China and Russia are busying with military build-ups.
Japan’s relationship with South Korea has deteriorated due to the former requisitioned worker issue among other issues. The government needs to be careful to prevent the confrontation between Japan and South Korea from posing an obstacle to security cooperation between Japan, the U.S., and South Korea. The Commissions on the Constitution of both houses of the Diet are still unable to engage in constructive debate due to the showdown between the ruling and opposition blocs. The commissions should not make light of their role to tirelessly discuss the nation’s supreme law.
The prime minister aims to amend the Constitution during his tenure. Having the Diet initiate constitutional amendment involves many steps, including holding discussions and reaching an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties. The LDP needs to create an environment for discussion.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) and other opposition parties should reverse their policy of refusing constitutional discussions under the Abe government.