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Thursday, July 31, 2008
Reshuffle talk growing stronger
High-ranking LDP members say Fukuda will pick new Cabinet as early as next week
By MASAMI ITO
Speculation is rife in Nagata-cho that Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda may name a new Cabinet early next week.
Every day, reporters ask Fukuda whether he plans to change his Cabinet, and every day he remains silent. But executives of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are reportedly getting ready for a new lineup as early as next week.
On Wednesday afternoon, LDP Secretary General Bunmei Ibuki met with Fukuda for about 30 minutes at his office. Emerging from the talks, Ibuki hinted that Fukuda may make a final decision Thursday.
Ibuki told reporters the two ministers who have been participating in the World Trade Organization negotiations in Geneva — Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Akira Amari — will return home Thursday evening.
Fukuda said he will listen to their reports about the WTO talks and "make a decision or consult with the party about his ideas" on a reshuffle, Ibuki said.
Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura meanwhile called off his plan to visit India, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan in the beginning of August.
"It is my understanding that Komura decided not to go . . . after considering the situation as a whole," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura.
The prime minister has been agonizing over whether to change the Cabinet, which could help him start fresh and gain more public support.
Fukuda and the LDP have long been troubled by low support rates for him and his Cabinet, which at one point fell below the critical 20 percent mark. Even hosting the Group of Eight summit in early July did not do much to boost their popularity.
Strong voices have surfaced within the party that a new Cabinet should be chosen by the prime minister himself both to strengthen his position within the party and to bolster his standing with the public. Many also say Fukuda should form his own Cabinet because most of his current ministers were handpicked by his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, who abruptly stepped down last September.
But at the same time, he would be running the risk of possibly appointing someone tainted by corruption. Abe failed to raise public support after three of his chosen ministers resigned in quick succession and one hanged himself over money scandals.
Also Wednesday, ruling bloc executives met to discuss a possible Cabinet reshuffle as well as when to convene an extraordinary Diet session. However, they only agreed to meet again to discuss the extraordinary session after Fukuda reshuffles his Cabinet.
Edano willing to run
Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Yukio Edano on Wednesday expressed his willingness to file his candidacy for the party's September presidential election.
"I would like to consult with my colleagues with a view to running in the presidential election," the former DPJ policy chief told Kyodo News.
Meanwhile, DPJ Vice President Katsuya Okada said the same day he currently does "not have a strong eagerness" to run in the main opposition party's presidential election.
Pointing out that he resigned from the DPJ presidential post in 2005 to take responsibility for the party's setback in the House of Representatives election that year, Okada said he thinks he should "restrain" himself until the next general election is held.
"I, at the moment, do not have a strong eagerness over the presidential election," Okada said in a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.
He also suggested he is not confident that the party would win the next general election with him at the helm.
"I'm not sure whether the environment has drastically changed from 2005," he said.
Okada called DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, whose term is set to expire in September, the "biggest contributor" to the party gaining a high standing with the public.