TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is shuffling his Cabinet and key party posts Wednesday in an apparent move to strengthen his position before a key party leadership vote next year, while appointing more women to showcase his effort for women’s advancement in his conservative party.
It’s the second Cabinet shuffle since Kishida took office in October 2021 when he promised fairer distribution of economic growth, measures to tackle Japan’s declining population and a stronger national defense. Russia’s war in Ukraine, rising energy prices and Japan’s soaring defense costs have created challenges in his tenure, keeping his support ratings at low levels.
Kishida’s three-year term as Liberal Democratic Party president expires in September 2024, when he would seek a second term. His faction is only the fourth largest in the LDP, so he must stay on good terms with the others to maintain his position.
He distributed Cabinet posts to reflect the balance of power, and nearly half of the positions are shared between the two largest factions associated with late leader Shinzo Abe and former leader Taro Aso.
Kishida appointed five women in his 19-member Cabinet, part of his attempt to buoy sagging support ratings for his male-dominated Cabinet. He previously had two, and five matches Abe’s 2014 Cabinet and one in 2001 under then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and women still hold only a quarter of the total posts.
One of the five, Yoko Kamikawa, a former justice minister, takes the post of foreign minister to replace Yoshimasa Hayashi. Both Kamikawa and Hayashi are from Kishida’s own faction.
The LDP supports traditional family values and gender roles, and the omission of female politicians is often criticized by women’s rights groups as democracy without women.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki, Digital Reform Minister Taro Kono as well as Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi, were among the six who stayed.
His Cabinet had resigned en masse in a ceremonial meeting earlier Wednesday before retained Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno announced the new lineup.
Kishida also kept his main intraparty rival Toshimitsu Motegi at the No. 2 post in the party and retained faction heavyweights like Aso in other key party posts.
Kishida is expected to compile a new economic package to deal with rising gasoline and food prices, which would be necessary to have wage increase continue and support low-income households in order to regain public support.
Two figures who lost posts in the shakeup had been touched by recent scandals.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tetsuro Nomura was reprimanded by Kishida and apologized after calling the treated radioactive wastewater being released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant “contaminated,” a term China uses to characterize the water as unsafe. And magazine reports have contained allegations that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara influenced a police investigation of his wife over her ex-husband’s suspicious death.
Kishida last shuffled his Cabinet a year ago after Abe’s assassination revealed ties between senior ruling party members and the Unification Church, a South Korea-based ultra-conservative sect.
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