Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan shuffled his Cabinet line-up Friday, placing allies in key party and government posts and consigning his leadership election rival Ichiro Ozawa to the backbench.
A year and a day after the Democratic Party of Japan turned the nation’s politics on its head in a landslide lower house poll victory and 3 days after his victory over Ozawa, Kan has radically shaken his pack, making personnel changes in 12 of 18 government posts.
Kan seems keen to stamp his mark on the party and display the leadership skills that his critics say he lacks. His decision to hand Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada the party’s No. 2 post of secretary general reflects the support Okada gave him in the leadership election and the fact that Okada is seen as a ‘clean’ politician.
Seiji Maehara, a former party leader and Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism minister, will take over as the nation’s top diplomat. Maehara (who also backed Kan) is popular among the general public, and this move can be seen as a promotion. But he will be severely tested on the diplomatic circuit where he will have to bat for Japan’s interests against seasoned counterparts such as US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
Among ministers who will retain their offices are Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Renho, state minister for administrative reform. Noda, who was widely applauded in Japanese business circles for Wednesday’s intervention in the foreign exchange market, will have a big task ahead of him trying to pull the reins on a strong yen. Renho, perhaps the most popular Cabinet member, will be expected to continue her role of weeding out wasteful spending. Kan also retained Yoshito Sengoku as the government’s top spokesman in the role of chief cabinet secretary.
While Kan has repeatedly used the term ‘no side’ (a rugby expression to signal the end of a game and on-field hostilities) in a bid to maintain party unity after a bruising election campaign, he clearly has sidelined Ozawa and his supporters (using another rugby term, they could be said to have been ‘sin-binned’).
The prime minister has reportedly offered Ozawa the (poorly titled) job of acting president, a largely token advisory role often handed to party elders. He has also tapped Azuma Koshiishi, a close accomplice of Ozawa, for the same post.
Kan also excluded Yukio Hatoyama, his predecessor, from any senior government positions. This could be interpreted as either Kan casting him aside for supporting Ozawa in the poll, or Hatoyama having lost his appetite for office.
In other Ozawa news, prosecutors reportedly will question the party heavyweight this weekend over allegations of a political funding scandal that has seen three of his aides indicted.
By surrounding himself with friendly faces, Kan will be working with people he trusts. But as Paul Jackson mentioned here on Wednesday, he will have no downtime. He has to maintain party unity (it’s anyone’s guess what Ozawa and his cronies will do now), while battling an increasingly hostile opposition Liberal Democratic Party.
Kan has passed one test, but his true examination will be whether he can pass effective policy through a lopsided Diet. With handpicked personnel at his side, he may have made this exacting task a smidgeon easier.
Japan’s new Cabinet
(* Asterisks indicate a minister retaining a post)
Prime Minister: Naoto Kan (lower house)*
Internal Affairs and Communication Minister: Yoshihiro Katayama (Keio University professor)
Justice Minister: Minoru Yanagida (upper house)
Foreign Minister: Seiji Maehara (lower house)
Finance Minister: Yoshihiko Noda (lower house)*
Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister: Yoshiaki Takaki (lower house)
Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry: Ritsuo Hosokawa (lower house)
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister: Michihiko Kano (lower house)
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister: Akihiro Ohata (lower house)
Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister (lower house)
Environment Minister: Ryu Matsumoto (lower house)
Defence Minister: Toshimi Kitazawa (upper house)*
Chief Cabinet Secretary: Yoshito Sengoku (lower house)*
State minister for consumer affairs, declining birthrate and national public safety: Tomiko Okazaki (upper house)
Financial Services and Postal Reform Minister: Shozaburo Jimi (upper house)*
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister: Banri Kaieda (upper house)
State minister for national strategy: Koichiro Gemba (lower house)
State administrative reform: Renho (upper house)*