Revamped cabinet lineup signals Abe's gambit to stay in power
Japan Today -- Sep 12
Nearly seven years in office, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is betting that his handpicked ministers and ruling party lawmakers will give him a firmer -- and possibly longer -- grip on power.

With relatively high support ratings and a track record of election wins, the 64-year-old Abe hopes to keep the wind blowing in his favor as he is set to deliver on his promise to go ahead with an unpopular consumption tax hike next month.

Abe brought in new faces in his cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, with the surprise installment of rising political star Shinjiro Koizumi viewed as the prime minister's attempts to get a fresh popularity boost and foster a pool of future talent in the ruling party to succeed him.

But he largely counted on his longtime supporters and trusted allies to ensure a smooth ride, leaving the job of maintaining intraparty unity to heavyweights in Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party who are loyal to the premier.

"The new lineup is meant to lay the groundwork for Abe to press forward with his goal of amending the Constitution and possibly to seek yet another term (beyond September 2021)," said Masahiro Iwasaki, a political science professor at Nihon University.

"Abe created a comfortable environment by leaving naysayers out," Iwasaki said.

Signifying the continuation of the status quo, Abe kept Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who doubles as finance minister, both of whom have formed the backbone of the Abe administration since 2012.

As Abe said he would form a team that can "shine a light" on various faces in the LDP, the subsequent appointment of would-be successors in Cabinet posts is also a strategic move to secure their loyalty and solidify his power base, political observers say.

Besides Koizumi, the list of hopefuls includes Defense Minister Taro Kono, a U.S.-educated political maverick, and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who has earned his reputation as a tough and skilled negotiator in bilateral trade talks with the United States. Health minister Katsunobu Kato is Abe's close aide who used to serve as a deputy chief cabinet secretary.

Abe's right-hand man Suga is also rumored to be a contender since he announced the name of Japan's new imperial era and became known as "Uncle Reiwa."

News source: Japan Today
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