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PM Abe gives advance notice of Cabinet shuffle as intraparty griping grows

STOCKHOLM -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared on July 9 that he would reshuffle his Cabinet in August, confirming the shift an unusual one month in advance amid growing grumbles over his leadership from within his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Abe has only announced a Cabinet reshuffle a month in advance once, in 2014. However, the decision to reveal the personnel shakeup so far ahead of time appears intended to quell dissatisfaction within the ruling LDP after its crushing defeat in the July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.

In the assembly race, in addition to the scandal involving Kake Educational Institution, a private school operator run by a personal friend of the prime minister, gaffes made by those close to Abe such as Minister of Defense Tomomi Inada have increased party displeasure toward the prime minister and his so-called "favoritism."

While Abe has said that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga will remain in their current positions, he stated plans to "proactively appoint a wide range of personnel, regardless of age or gender."

In suggesting the large-scale changes, Abe showcased his determination to prioritize reconstructing party unity and reviving the image of the LDP. However, even if Abe does bring in fresh personnel to salve party dissatisfaction, it is unclear if the changes will sway public opinion and reverse the Cabinet's recent low approval ratings.

Within the LDP, there have been calls to promote Agriculture and Forestry Division Director Shinjiro Koizumi. But as one LDP member and former prime minister commented, the reality is that the party "has failed to nurture influential politicians popular among citizens that might undermine Abe's position as prime minister after his long-term authority."

Meanwhile, the future position of Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida -- who along with Suga and Aso has backed Abe since the prime minister's return to power in 2012 -- appears in flux. Kishida is considered a possible candidate to lead a "post-Abe" LDP, and is a focal point of attention leading up to the next LDP leadership election in September 2018.

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