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Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007

Safe picks mark new Cabinet lineup

Staff writer

Picking the right Cabinet members is the first and possibly the hardest task for any new prime minister, and Yasuo Fukuda — who took the helm Tuesday — probably had little choice but to play it safe.

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Masahiko Komura (left) and Shigeru Ishiba enter the Prime Minister's Official Residence on Tuesday evening after being tapped to serve as foreign minister and defense minister, respectively, by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. KYODO PHOTOS

Many people must have experienced a sense of deja vu when learning the lineup of Fukuda's newly appointed Cabinet. Most ministers under Shinzo Abe, who resigned earlier in the day, have remained in their posts, while several others have returned after serving roles in earlier administrations.

It appears to be something of a recruitment revolving door.

For example, newly appointed Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura occupied that office from 1998 to 2000 under Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. He was also defense minister in the Abe Cabinet.

And new Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who succeeds Komura as defense chief, held that very same post from 2002 to 2003 under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Fukuda appeared reluctant to fill the two key positions of foreign and defense ministers with inexperienced appointees lacking technical expertise, perhaps wary of the fierce resistance they will face from opposition forces in the Diet in the coming days.

A crucial issue in the current Diet session is whether to extend the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling operations for U.S.-led antiterrorism forces in the Indian Ocean beyond the Nov. 1 expiration date.

The opposition, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, grabbed a majority in the Upper House in the July election and has pledged to grill Cabinet ministers and block any government-sponsored bill to extend the operation.

Going into his new job, Fukuda appeared well aware of the restrictions he will be operating under.

"(New ministers) must face questioning in the Diet immediately (after appointment). I would not be able to make any over-the-top appointments," Fukuda said Sept. 16.

Given the constraints, there were probably scant other options than Komura and Ishiba.

They are among the few lawmakers known for a thorough and detailed knowledge of their policy areas. Komura is renowned for being able to field questions from opposition lawmakers more deftly even than government bureaucrats.

Ishiba, for his part, is a noted expert on military policies and boasts a thorough knowledge of weapons systems as well as the legal complexities restricting defense policy under the pacifist Constitution.

Fukuda was also confined by the need to confirm scandal-free appointees, considering that Cabinet members under Abe were repeatedly caught up in money scandals, which was a major factor in the Liberal Democratic Party's historic setback in the July election.

After the election, Abe spent more than a month conducting background checks on prospective candidates for his Cabinet, aimed at weeding out scandal-prone politicians.

He still failed to sufficiently scrutinize the political funding reports of farm minister Takehiko Endo, who was forced to resign only days after his appointment.

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The Japan Times

Article 6 of 12 in National news

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