Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to replace his beleaguered defense and justice ministers in a cabinet reshuffle in the first week of August, attempting to revive his fortunes after a stinging defeat in Tokyo metropolitan elections, government and party sources said Friday.
Abe is also tipped to overhaul key posts in the Liberal Democratic Party he leads at the same time, the sources said, adding that Aug 3 is a strong possibility for the cabinet reshuffle. Abe is expected to make a final decision after he returns from his European trip on Wednesday.
He is likely to retain the core members of his cabinet and the LDP.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, a conservative ally of Abe, and Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda both faced questions about their competency. Each joined the cabinet in the previous reshuffle on Aug. 3 last year.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga spoke little on the issue at a press conference on Friday, only saying it is a “matter left to the prime minister.”
He was initially expected to conduct a reshuffle in September when the tenures of LDP leadership posts expire, but the party’s historic defeat in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election last Sunday appears to have forced his hand.
The election loss was the latest bad news for Abe, who has seen a plunge in his cabinet support rate due to the ruling parties’ steamrolling of controversial “conspiracy” legislation to penalize the planning of crimes, as well as allegations of favoritism by Abe in relation to a veterinary school construction project.
Inada’s gaffe in a campaign speech before Sunday’s election, in which she implied the Self-Defense Forces’ support for an LDP candidate, is also believed to have contributed to the party’s defeat. Her comment drew flak for suggesting the SDF is not politically neutral.
She faced fresh criticism for being away from the Defense Ministry for about an hour on Thursday while around 1,600 SDF members were mobilized for search and rescue efforts in the wake of flooding and mudslides in southwestern Japan. At the time the weather agency was warning of a once-in-decades disaster.
She said she was out attending a “study session” with some people, though it was not an official duty. Three other politicians serving in top posts at the ministry were also away from the complex around the same time, leading some ruling and opposition party members to question the government’s crisis management procedures.
Inada defended her action at a press conference Friday, saying that she remained informed of the disaster situation and was able to return to the ministry in 15 minutes if need be.
As for Kaneda, his handling of deliberations in the previous Diet session on the controversial conspiracy law provided a target for opposition parties at an inopportune time for the administration.
“It would be unfathomable for (Inada and Kaneda) to remain in their roles,” a senior member of the ruling coalition said Friday.
By refreshing the cabinet lineup next month, the prime minister is apparently aiming to allow newly installed ministers sufficient time to familiarize themselves with their portfolios before an extraordinary Diet session expected to convene in September.
The LDP is eager to convene the session at an early date in light of its goal of submitting a proposal to amend the Constitution for the first time. The party hopes to secure enough time to debate the plan in constitutional commissions in both Diet chambers.
Abe’s close aides are likely to remain in their posts to continue supporting the prime minister, now in his fifth year in office. They include Suga, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai and LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura.
Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii, the only minister belonging to the Komeito party, which forms a ruling coalition with the LDP, is also thought likely to stay on.
Abe is currently in Hamburg, Germany, to attend a two-day meeting of the Group of 20 major economies through Saturday.