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Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2006
New lineup a good indicator where policy emphasis will be
The new Cabinet lineup announced Tuesday shows where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is placing his emphasis, such as the North Korean abductions, education and various reforms, and he wants his closest allies working in those areas.
A typical example is his appointment of former Senior Vice Foreign Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki as chief Cabinet secretary, the post often called "the wife of the prime minister." He will also be a minister in charge of abduction issues.
Shiozaki, 55, is one of Abe's closest colleagues and a member of a study group called NAIS, whose name comes from the first letter of four close politicians -- Takumi Nemoto, appointed as a special adviser to the prime minister in charge of fiscal policies, Abe, Nobuteru Ishihara, who was assigned Monday as secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Shiozaki.
The abduction issue is one Abe has focused on throughout his career and it raised him to national prominence.
He has involved himself in the issue of getting Japanese abductees in North Korea back home, giving him huge play in the media in 2001 when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi held a surprise summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
And how Abe wants to handle the diplomatic issue can also be seen in his pick for foreign minister.
He retained Taro Aso, his rival in the LDP presidential election, in that post.
Analysts say that Abe and Aso worked hand in hand to tackle various diplomatic issues in the Koizumi Cabinet, and Abe apparently feels comfortable keeping Aso on as foreign minister.
Aso supported Abe's initiative in pushing the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Pyongyang over its missile launches in July.
Analysts also say Abe is now trying to improve ties with South Korea and China, and Aso shares this policy goal.
Abe supported Koizumi's annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine, but during the LDP presidential campaign he carefully avoided mentioning whether he would visit the shrine after assuming the post of prime minister.
"Now that we have a new prime minister, we are in the position to be able to actualize a meeting between Abe and Hu Jintao," Aso told reporters after being re-appointed foreign minister.
"Abe assigned people who are close to him for issues that he focuses on," said Yasunori Sone, a political science professor at Keio University.
But Sone said whether the Cabinet can succeed in getting those policies pushed through is in doubt, as there is a lack of experience among the relatively young politicians as well as uncertainty stemming from the new structure of the Cabinet that Abe has introduced, including newly appointing five special advisers to the prime minister.
A political science professor who declined to be named said, "It should be easier for Cabinet members to cooperate in their policies." But he also said it is uncertain if they can coordinate their policies with other LDP leaders, many of whom are veteran lawmakers.
Meanwhile, Abe left no post to people who hold differing views. Former Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, an election rival whose policies were in stark contrast to Abe's during the LDP presidential campaign, was not given a Cabinet post. Tanigaki pledged to increase the consumption tax to as high as 10 percent, while Abe and Aso were hesitant to give specifics.
His emphasis on the younger generation also means that he did not stick to the conventional faction system. Abe took a page from Koizumi, who decided the members of his Cabinet on his own, not based on the lists of recommendations from the major LDP factions.
But in the end, he did reserve two Cabinet posts for Upper House members as requested by LDP Upper House Caucus chief Mikio Aoki, in an apparent effort to avoid a rift with the veteran lawmaker.
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