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Embattled PM Abe expected to swiftly reshuffle Cabinet

Left: LDP Executive Acting Secretary-General Hakubun Shimomura looks grim as the party's poor showing is reported, at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. Right: Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike smiles as she watches election results flash in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on July 2, 2017. (Mainichi photos)

The crushing defeat of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election casts a major shadow over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's centripetal force in the ruling party in the National Diet.

The LDP's debacle -- a record low number of seats won by the party in the metro assembly -- deals a serious blow to Abe's longtime dominance in the party, which has continued since the second Abe Cabinet inaugurated in December 2012. As a countermeasure, the prime minister intends to quickly reshuffle the Cabinet and LDP executives, possibly sometime between mid-July and early August.

On the election evening of July 2, Prime Minister Abe had a dinner meeting at a fancy restaurant in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward with Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and former minister in charge of economic revitalization Akira Amari.

During the election campaign period, the LDP was forced to remain on the defensive due in part to allegations that Prime Minister Abe showed favoritism to Kake Educational Institution, headed by his close friend Kotaro Kake, over the school operator's plan to establish a new veterinary department in a national strategic special zone in Ehime Prefecture. The names of Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda and LDP Executive Acting Secretary-General Hakubun Shimomura also surfaced in connection with the Kake scandal. Shimomura also serves as chairman of the LDP's Tokyo chapter and spearheaded the party's campaigning in the Tokyo election, but he suggested on July 3 that he would step down from the post following the party's election defeat.

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada's campaign speech gaffe, in which she stated while showing support for an LDP candidate, "I would like to ask for your (voters') support on behalf of the Self-Defense Forces and as defense minister," also drew fire and seriously affected the LDP's showing in the election.

Because Hagiuda, Shimomura and Inada are all close allies of Abe, there are frustrations within the LDP that the prime minister and his "inner circle" triggered the party's failure in the Tokyo assembly race. "Unless the prime minister begins a personnel reshuffle right away, the party won't be viable," an aide to Abe commented.

Some in the LDP speculate that Abe will carry out a personnel overhaul after his scheduled visit to European countries from later this week. However, he will apparently face difficulties picking new Cabinet ministers, because if any of them make a gaffe, it would further strike a detrimental blow to the Abe administration.

While Abe has recently announced that he would have the LDP submit its proposals for constitutional amendments to an extraordinary Diet session this coming fall, the July 2 election fiasco could also affect his constitutional amendment schedule, with objections to his plan raised even from within the party.

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