Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's second Cabinet seems to be enjoying a smooth start, as a nationwide survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun shows improvements in the cabinet approval rating.
Abe appointed a record five women as cabinet ministers and named a former head of the Liberal Democratic Party as the party's secretary general. This well-balanced lineup focusing on stability and the promotion of women appears to have pushed up the approval rating.
However, the Cabinet will face many challenges in the near future, including gubernatorial elections in Fukushima and Okinawa prefectures and a decision on a consumption tax hike.
"It's important for us to achieve tangible results, rolling up our sleeves to meet the expectations of the public, and not alternate between happiness and anxiety as a result of the approval rating. We'll produce results worthy of a cabinet aiming to implement and realise policies," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stressed at a press conference on Thursday.
In this first reshuffle of Abe's second Cabinet, former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba firmly declined an offer to become state minister in charge of security legislation, bringing a conflict between Abe and Ishiba to the surface. After this storm inside the party, the rise in the approval rating is a relief to those close to Abe.
One reason for the improvement is believed to be the appointment of former LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki as the party's secretary general. LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura described it as "a surprise with dignity."
Tanigaki, who is 10 years older than Abe, is known for his sincere character and ability to coordinate opinion, which he proved when he headed the LDP during its time as an opposition party.
He is also seen as a representative of the party's liberal wing and stands at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Abe, who is often described as conservative and a hard-liner on foreign policy. Having Tanigaki in this important position appears to have generated hope among LDP members that he will help maintain balance within the party.
Promotion of women
Another reason for the rise in the approval rating is the active promotion of women as cabinet members. Abe appears to have tried to improve the Cabinet's image by helping women take an active role, a goal the prime minister has been prioritizing for society at large.
When the reshuffled cabinet members had their ceremonial photos taken at the Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday, five women, including Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi, stood close to Abe.
A source close to Abe said that this symbolic positioning was decided at a preparatory meeting with Abe and others, and aimed to "visually clarifying the administration's stance."
However, a number of issues await the new Cabinet.
The Fukushima gubernatorial election will take place in October, followed by the Okinawa gubernatorial election in November. The administration has to decide in December whether to raise the consumption tax rate to 10 per cent in October next year, and also deal with such issues as the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks and the restart of nuclear power plants.
"When we have a good start, we are severely tested to achieve good results. It's important for us to steadily show results," New Komeito head Natsuo Yamaguchi said Thursday about the survey results.
Tanigaki said at LDP headquarters: "We should try hard not to disappoint people's expectations, to not let it be said that they [the survey results] were only a festive celebration of the beginning."
Abe seems to be tackling these challenges by making the best possible use of the people who remained in key positions, such as Tanigaki, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Akira Amari, state minister in charge of economic revitalization.
Suga, one of the key figures in the administration, is watching for slips of tongue by inexperienced ministers and those who have joined Cabinet for the first time.
At the new Cabinet's first meeting Wednesday, Suga warned members not to make statements individually. "Cabinet policies should be expressed in words by the prime minister and myself, the chief cabinet secretary," he said.
Toshihiro Nikai, chair of the LDP's General Council, said at his faction meeting on Thursday, "From now, I'll be very careful about what I say."
How long they will be able to maintain a sense of tension seems to be the key to keeping the high approval rating.Speech