Japan PM to reshuffle cabinet in bid to re-energise

Japan PM to reshuffle cabinet in bid to re-energise
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to reshuffle his cabinet on Wednesday in a bid to re-energise his economic and security agenda after once stellar approval ratings began to wane.

The staunch conservative had enjoyed sky-high public support when he came to power in December 2012 promising to kick-start Japan's sputtering economy.

But a series of bruising battles over a consumption tax hike and an unpopular move to water-down the pacifist constitution have taken some of the wind out of his sails.

A little less than two years into his tenure as prime minister, weeds of discontent in his often-fractious party are also beginning to emerge, as the restless ranks of politicians brought up on a system of age-based seniority agitate for a crack at a cabinet job.

Reports say Abe will retain the key figures of his administration - Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Finance Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and State Minister in charge of economic revitalisation and trade talks Akira Amari.

But lesser roles could be vacated to make room for key Liberal Democratic Party figures who might otherwise cause trouble for the prime minister if left to languish on the back benches.

It is also thought likely that Abe might put his money where his mouth is after months of speeches in which he has implored and inveighed Japan Inc. to boost the number of women in senior jobs.

Press reports suggest he will appoint at least two more female ministers, but could still fall short of the six he would need to make a third of his cabinet women - the proportion he says should occupy positions of power by 2020.

One woman expected to be elevated to the executive is Yuko Obuchi, 40, the daughter of former premier Keizo Obuchi. She has made the grade once before, at the age of 34, and holds the record for being the youngest female cabinet minister Japan has had.

The cabinet reshuffle is being carried out in tandem with a rejig of the LDP, of which Abe is president.

Japanese media have expended much ink and energy on the fate of Shigeru Ishiba, currently the secretary general the LDP and the man seen as most likely to challenge Abe for his crown in the party's scheduled presidential election next year.

After a period of vacillation, however, it now seems likely he will fall in line and accept a demotion to a minor cabinet role, rather than go off the reservation and cause trouble from the outside.

The reshuffle will be the first major surgery Abe has performed since coming to power, making the present cabinet one of the longest-serving collectives since the end of World War II.

Abe's own 20 months in the top job also marks him out as unusual in a country where, with precious few exceptions, premiers have tended to last little more than a year.

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