The reshuffled third Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was launched on Aug. 3. Attention had been focused on the policy direction that the prime minister, who has bolstered his power base after winning the House of Councillors election last month, would show through his Cabinet reshuffle.
However, most of the key Cabinet ministers -- the chief Cabinet secretary, the finance minister and the foreign minister -- were retained while 10, or over half of the Cabinet members, were replaced. As such, the new lineup does not give the public the impression that the Abe Cabinet has changed much.
At the same time, the prime minister appointed legislators close to him as new members of his Cabinet, such as Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and Economy and Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko. Abe apparently aims to develop Inada as a candidate for a future political leader by putting her in charge of national security policy.
Eight legislators were appointed as Cabinet members for the first time. There are about 70 legislators in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who have been elected several times but are still on a waiting list for a ministerial post. There are calls within the LDP urging that Abe's term as party president, which is to expire in autumn 2018, be extended. At a news conference on Aug. 3, the prime minister said he has no intention of seeking to extend his term as leader of the ruling party.
However, the new lineup gives the impression that he has favorably treated those close to him and bolstered his power base through the reshuffle.
Shigeru Ishiba, former minister in charge of overcoming the population decline and revitalizing local economies, left the Cabinet despite the prime minister's request to stay on. Although Ishiba made the decision in an apparent bid to explore the possibility of taking over the LDP leadership in the post-Abe period, his decision is only natural because there have been differences in basic policies between the prime minister and himself.
It is regrettable that the prime minister failed to send a clear message about what he aims to achieve through his latest Cabinet reshuffle.
In his previous Cabinet reshuffles, Prime Minister Abe created new posts, such as minister in charge of overcoming the population decline and revitalizing local economies and minister in charge of the dynamic engagement of all citizens, to show his new policy goals. In the latest reshuffle, the prime minister created a post of minister in charge of working life reform, and gave the position to Katsunobu Kato, who also serves as minister for the dynamic engagement of all citizens. This shows that Prime Minister Abe attaches importance to reforming employment and wage systems.
At the same time, the Abe Cabinet has come under mounting pressure to review its entire policy goals.
It is becoming difficult for Japan to achieve its target of economic growth, which the prime minister pledged as part of the "Abenomics" economic policy mix promoted by his government. Despite the government's decision to postpone the consumption tax hike scheduled for April 2017, the government continues to spend massive amounts of taxpayers' money to implement economic stimulus measures.
The LDP secured a single-party majority in the upper house following the July 10 election -- for the first time in 27 years -- securing the Abe Cabinet the power base to carry out difficult reform projects.
Only a powerful Cabinet can create a basic framework for a tax and social security system that can cope with a sharp increase in the need for medical and nursing care services due to the aging population, as well as assistance for child care. Prime Minister Abe should have shown his enthusiasm for working out and implementing these reform measures through the reshuffle.
The prime minister, who is aspiring to revise the postwar Constitution while he is in office, once again expressed hope that progress will be made on Diet discussions on the issue. However, the Abe government apparently has no leeway to devote much of its energy to constitutional amendment.