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Japan PM Reshuffles Cabinet amid Slipping Public Support | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on August 3, 2017. (AFP)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revamped his government on Thursday in an effort to stop the drop in public support caused by a slew of scandals and errors.

Abe said he would focus on bread-and-butter issues such as jobs, a pledge he’s made in the past only to prioritize conservative issues such as amending the constitution.

“We will put the economy first,” Abe told reporters after the newly installed cabinet posed for a customary inaugural photo in morning coats and formal gowns. “There’s much left to do.”

Abe said the appointments were made after deep reflection, based on the ministers’ strengths and experience.

He reappointed former defense minister Itsunori Onodera after close ally and fellow nationalist Tomomi Inada resigned from the post last week following a scandal at the ministry over the handling of military documents.

He also tapped a pair of lawmakers who have opposed some of his policies.

New foreign minister Taro Kono is the son of a dovish top diplomat known for issuing a landmark 1993 apology as chief cabinet secretary over Japan’s use of “comfort women” — a euphemism for sex slavery — in World War II.

The US-educated 54-year-old is known as an independent-minded, anti-nuclear power advocate, in sharp contrast to Abe’s support for atomic energy.

Kono replaced Fumio Kishida, who served as top diplomat since Abe came to power and is often seen as a future prime minister. Kishida moved to a top post in Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Seiko Noda, 56, at one time hailed as Japan’s most likely first female prime minister and who in 2015 tried to challenge Abe for the LDP leadership, was named internal affairs minister.

She replaced Sanae Takaichi, another close Abe ally with strongly nationalist views.

Inada, the former defense minister, delighted conservatives during her tenure but drew domestic and international criticism in December when she prayed at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo.

Returning defense chief Onodera, 57, held the post for nearly two years until September 2014, and has vowed to restore unity and confidence within the ministry.

His appointment also comes amid rising tensions surrounding North Korea’s missile development.

Pyongyang launched its latest missile late Friday, just hours after the US and Japan moved to step up sanctions against it following its earlier test of an ICBM capable of reaching parts of the US.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, along with finance minister and deputy prime minister Taro Aso, were among officials who kept their posts.

Political blueblood Abe, in office since late December 2012, has pushed a nationalist agenda alongside a massive policy effort to end years of on-off deflation and rejuvenate the world’s third-largest economy.

But he has seen public support rates plummet in the past few months over an array of political troubles, including allegations of favoritism to a friend in a business deal — which Abe strongly denies.

The LDP suffered a drubbing in local Tokyo elections last month, which analysts and newspapers blamed on an increasing “arrogance” on the part of the prime minister.

“I deeply regret that my shortcomings have invited this situation,” a chastened Abe said earlier in the day ahead of the announcement of the cabinet changes.