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Editorial: Reasons to keep Deputy PM Aso in Abe Cabinet not convincing

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced that he will reshuffle his Cabinet on Oct. 2, retaining Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

The personnel change comes after the prime minister's victory in the Sept. 20 ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election, earning Abe his third consecutive term as chief. In the upcoming reshuffle, he announced his intention to appoint "as diverse a range of people as possible over a solid foundation."

This means the prime minister regards the two senior officials as his solid "foundation" for seeking out the completion of his policies. However, it must be pointed out that Aso has not taken political responsibility over a series of scandals that shook his Finance Ministry.

The ministry falsified documents regarding the sale of government land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen at a massive discount. The ministry then lied about the records of the negotiation to the Diet for over a year. Aso tried to close the curtain on the unprecedented scandal by simply punishing the bureaucrats involved, effectively shelving efforts to get to the bottom of the case.

A Cabinet reshuffle could act as an opportunity to settle questions about Aso's responsibility for the scandal. Retaining him is tantamount to declaring that his accountability will go completely unquestioned. Moreover, Aso has also committed gaffes that have made many wonder if he is in fact suited to be a member of the Cabinet.

When a sexual harassment case involving the then top bureaucrat at the Finance Ministry came to light, Aso defended his subordinate saying, "Under the current legal system, there is no such thing as 'criminal sexual harassment.'" He even went as far as to make the uninformed statement that Japan is "the only colored race among the G-7 (Group of Seven) countries."

Last year, Aso said, "Hitler, who killed millions, is bad even if his motivations were right." The statement gave the impression as if he showed understanding toward the Jewish persecution by Nazi Germany, and almost obliterated international confidence in the Abe administration.

Nevertheless, the prime minister says he will retain Aso. Abe said he has worked on his "Abenomics" economic policy mix "hand in hand" with the finance minister, and appears to think that this is enough of a reason to keep Aso in the Cabinet. But the core policy of Abenomics is monetary easing by the Bank of Japan, and the policy has failed to meet the goal of achieving a 2 percent inflation target to pull the country's economy out of deflation.

It is questionable that Aso is the only person right for the job. Aso has maintained his support for Abe, even when he had everything to lose from the criticism aimed at the prime minister over the Moritomo favoritism case. The action made it clear that Abe and Aso deeply trust one another on a personal level.

Still, retaining Aso without a convincing explanation is a personnel decision that fails to consider anything beyond the narrow scope of the administration and ruling party.

In the LDP presidential election, former Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba won 45 percent of the vote from party members. This outcome should be considered as criticism of Prime Minister Abe's handling of the administration, including the Moritomo scandal.

However, Aso dismissed the results, saying that Ishiba's showing in the election cannot be described as a good attempt by Ishiba. One must wonder if the prime minister is of the same opinion.

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