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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Abe looks to shake up Cabinet

Ruling bloc vows to stay united, try to connect with public


By HIROKO NAKATA and MASAMI ITO
Staff writers

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he will change his Cabinet lineup sometime after an extraordinary Diet session next week, as the ruling bloc licked its wounds from its drubbing in the House of Councilors election.

News photo
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears at a news conference at the headquarters of his Liberal Democratic Party on Monday, the day after the party suffered a stunning loss in the House of Councilors election. AP PHOTO

Abe also vowed to dispel distrust in the public pension system, which has mishandled millions of premium payment records and was a major focal point for voters Sunday. He indicated he will take the loopholes out of the recently revised law on reporting political funds.

Abe, president of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Akihiro Ota, head of New Komeito, meanwhile reconfirmed their intention in a meeting Monday to maintain the two-party ruling coalition despite the dark cloud cast by the election setback.

"The election results show that the government has to be reshuffled," Abe told a news conference, vowing to name a new Cabinet "at an appropriate time after the extraordinary session."

Observers believe a reshuffle won't take place until late August.

Abe said he will name new LDP executives before the current leaders' terms end in September, adding he needs to consider his travel schedule for August.

Final results of Upper House election
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LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa and LDP Upper House Chairman Mikio Aoki have both expressed their intention to resign their posts as a gesture of taking responsibility for the trouncing.

Abe said he will work to make the economic recovery real to the people and pledged further education reform efforts and changes to the public servant system.

The LDP and New Komeito leaders also said they will pursue policies that benefit the public.

Ota said the two parties must focus more on issues directly related to the lives of the people, including the economic disparity between urban and rural areas, instead of attempting to amend the Constitution.

"The election results were severe, but they (reflected) the voice of the public," Ota told Abe. "We must accept (the results) earnestly and rebuild" the two parties.

The LDP won only 37 seats, losing its position as the No. 1 party in the chamber, and New Komeito collected only nine seats.

The ruling bloc's loss was the Democratic Party of Japan's gain, as it won a sweeping victory with 60 seats.

Upper House breakdown
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Ota said major factors behind the coalition's defeat were the scandalous way some lawmakers in the bloc handled political funds and gaffes by Cabinet ministers.

Farm minister Norihiko Akagi has been under fire over dubious "office fee" claims, as was his predecessor, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, who hanged himself in May just before he was to appear before the Diet to answer questions about accounting irregularities and his links to a bid-rigging scam.

Health minister Hakuo Yanagiawa drew fire for describing women as "child-bearing machines" in a January speech on the declining birthrate, and Fumio Kyuma was forced to resign as defense minister in early July after saying the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki "couldn't be helped."

"The general public especially wants more transparency and disclosure regarding politics and money," Ota said.

Abe also acknowledged that voters judged the ruling bloc's revision to the Political Funds Control Law, made during the ordinary Diet session that ended a month ago, to be overly lenient. The revision has been widely slammed as being full of loopholes.



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