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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #319: November 1, 2005

Japan Reshuffle Hints at Next PM

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Japan Reshuffle Hints at Next PM


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reshuffled his Cabinet Monday to form the third, and presumed to be - as the PM himself has announced - the last for Mr Koizumi.

This reshuffle does not, and should not, change the nature of the Koizumi government. After all, Mr Koizumi was elected by the diet to head the administrative arm of Japan's government with the powers at will to appoint, and dismiss, Ministers to aid him. But as each minister being a politician seeking realization of his/her own agenda, specific policy measures implemented that would affect people's daily lives could differ depending on the character of the Minister in charge.

Another consideration is that (most of) the Ministers must lead Ministries rigidly composed of bureaucrats who have devoted their careers to function as professionals in respective fields. This makes it necessary for the Ministers not only to dictate his/her policies to his staff, but the instructions must be viable in the eyes of professionals. Moreover, Ministers would need convincing powers to realize policies - move things forward - in the predominantly conservative atmosphere of Ministries filled by bureaucrats.

This is why it is considered necessary for a Prime Minister candidate to experience a major role in the cabinet. Being a Minister is a training ground, as well as a test, for true leadership - not in the form merely of public popularity but also of abilities to manage and lead a solid organization by way of realizing policies.

It is thus important, especially as Mr Koizumi has drastically changed many of the customs and tradition in the political and administrative arena, to see who would be assigned to what (significant) role in the government as potential candidate to succeed the prime-ministership next September. In fact, Mr Koizumi himself earlier announced that this cabinet would be a testing ground for those he perceive to be his possible successors.

For the moment, it seems Shinzo Abe is leading the pack, closely followed by Taro Aso, followed slightly behind by Sadakazu Tanigaki, with Shoichi Nakagawa still on the list of competitors, and unheralded Heizo Takenaka, who has been the only person to serve in Mr Koizumi's every cabinet, maintaining his own position.

Asked in the news conference of what are considered to be top priority issues, Mr Koizumi responded: (Facing a society of aging population and dwindling birthrate,) people are most anxious to see a dependable and sustainable welfare system (including pension and medical insurance), which requires fiscal reform to secure resources and funding to support it, which in turn requires administrative reform (streamlining the bureaucracy including public financial institutions),

With regard to foreign policy, Mr Koizumi confirmed that Japan would not change the stance in terms of the grand design and direction. Japan would keep its strong ties with the U.S. while endeavoring to maintain peaceful, amicable, and productive relation with any and every society which share this simple notion based on mutual respect.

That said, diplomacy as a daily chore is a tough business. Foreign Minister Aso is facing a real challenge. Mr Aso was a successful businessman running a large corporation before becoming a lawmaker, and has already demonstrated his abilities in the government in managing domestic economic affairs and trade related matters. Little known is that he speaks fluent English through his studies in Stanford University and London School of Economics & Political Science. His shooting skills sent him as a member of the Japanese delegation to the 21st Olympic Games held in Montreal in 1976. He is also known to be very outspoken. It is interesting to see what sort of a Foreign Minister he becomes.

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