Japan’s Premier to Reshuffle Cabinet in Bid to Boost Support

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to shuffle his cabinet and senior party positions next week, according to Kyodo News, as he seeks to revive public support and step up policy momentum a year ahead of a key party vote.

(Bloomberg) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to shuffle his cabinet and senior party positions next week, according to Kyodo News, as he seeks to revive public support and step up policy momentum a year ahead of a key party vote. 

This would be Kishida’s second major cabinet overhaul since he took office nearly two years ago, promising to build a fairer society by protecting the middle class and pressing businesses to share the fruits of economic growth with employees and subcontractors. 

The premier’s agenda has been derailed by the unexpected, from Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine to the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. 

Kishida must figure out how to tackle the cost-led price rises that are hurting the less-wealthy people he promised to support, while finding funds to cover pledges to spend more on defense and families with children.

The reshuffle may happen as early as next Wednesday, Kyodo News reported. Kishida told reporters late Thursday the date hasn’t been decided. 

Here are some of the points to watch as the premier makes his picks:

Potential rivals

With the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party set to hold a leadership vote next September, Kishida must decide on roles for competitors looking to take over the top job. Chief among them is Toshimitsu Motegi, currently the LDP No. 2, who has already served in several cabinet positions and made no secret of his ambition to become prime minister. He will stay in his current post, rather than taking up a ministerial job, the Yomiuri newspaper reported Thursday. Other potential candidates in the 2024 leadership race include current Minister for Digital Transformation Kono Taro, Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi and former Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda. 

Factional jostling

Kishida faces a delicate dance with the faction that bears the name of his late former boss, Shinzo Abe. While the group has failed to pick a new leader since his assassination last year, it remains the party’s largest faction. Kishida is looking to keep Abe group members including current LDP policy chief Koichi Hagiuda and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno in prominent positions, according to the Yomiuri, which cited government and ruling party sources. Separately, he’ll also retain party deputy leader Taro Aso, leader of the second-largest faction, the Asahi newspaper said, in the kind of horse-trading that could help keep the premier in office. 

Spending pressure 

Kishida is mulling a fresh round of economic measures and has expanded gasoline subsidies, while extending them until year-end to ease the hit from inflation. Additional spending seems inevitable if he aims to restore public support because sticky inflation is outpacing wage gains, hurting households — particularly low-income ones. Kishida could be looking to signal policy continuity if he decides to keep his current finance and economy ministers. A cabinet lineup that hints at change could bolster share prices and push up voter support, said Shinichi Ichikawa, a senior fellow at Pictet Asset Management Japan. 

Cleaning house

Kishida’s initially spotless image has been tarnished by a series of scandals. Earlier this year he fired his own son who was serving as his secretary over lighthearted photographs taken during a family party in the premier’s official residence. Still, Kishida plans to retain Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara, a close associate, the Asahi newspaper said, despite a series of magazine reports about his personal life.   

Public favorites

Support for Kishida’s cabinet in several polls is close to its lowest since he took office and he’s seeking a major overhaul to freshen his image, the Yomiuri newspaper said Friday. Previous premiers have sometimes sought to improve their image by appointing politicians popular with the public, or promoting more women to the cabinet. But the party is short of suitable candidates with the once widely liked Kono’s image damaged by a series of blunders over the introduction of a national ID card. Potential female candidates include former Trade Minister Yuko Obuchi and former Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa. 

Coalition bonds

Kishida’s LDP was mired in a dispute with its Buddhist-backed coalition partner Komeito earlier this year, threatening a relationship that has helped keep it in power for decades. While ties have been patched up, some in the LDP sought to take the key post of land and transport minister away from their junior partner, the Asahi newspaper and other media have reported. Komeito is set to hold onto the post, the Mainichi newspaper said Thursday, citing ruling party and government sources. 

–With assistance from Yuki Hagiwara, Yoshiaki Nohara and Yuko Takeo.

(Updates with latest report.)

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