The fourth Cabinet under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was inaugurated on Oct. 2. The lineup includes 12 new ministers -- the largest number of Cabinet newcomers in the history of the Abe administration. The personnel arrangement honors the wishes of intraparty factions that supported the prime minister in his successful bid for the presidency of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Seven of the new ministers are veteran politicians who have won the House of Representatives elections seven times or more. This implies that the premier was trying to accept as many people as possible from a "waiting list" of would-be Cabinet members who had not been able to make it.
Newcomers face concerns regarding their administrative prowess and their ability to handle Diet question-and-answer sessions. They are prone to a higher risk of becoming targets of the opposition camp over their past words and deeds, including scandals.
One such newcomer, Satsuki Katayama, the new minister in charge of regional revitalization, attracted criticism for her social media tweet perceived as slanderous against a child from a poor family. She was also forced to apologize for being late at a Diet hearing when she was the chairwoman of the House of Councillors foreign affairs and defense committee.
The new environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada previously resigned as state minister for education over an allegation that he had falsified his academic background. He also demanded a review of the government's official stance on the "Nanjing Massacre" committed by the Imperial Japanese Army.
Yoshitaka Sakurada, who has been appointed minister in charge of promoting the Olympics and Paralympics, once said that so-called "comfort women" who were forced to provide sexual services to the Japanese military during World War II, did so "for business," but retracted the remark after facing criticism. Many of the new ministers are far right politicians supportive of Prime Minister Abe.
In the party reshuffle, Abe chose Akira Amari as the head of the Election Strategy Headquarters. Amari resigned in 2016 as minister for economic revitalization over an influence-peddling allegation involving his receipt of cash in his office. Amari is a close friend of the prime minister. The whole administration now has many people who belong to Abe's inner circle.
It is hard to understand what the premier wants to do during his next three-year term as LDP president with the personnel selection he made this time.
Still, we can see that he is bent on revising the Constitution from the fact that he chose his close aides as head of the party's decision-making General Council and chief of the headquarters for the promotion of constitutional revision.
Abe retained several key officials, including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and ministers of foreign affairs and trade. The core framework of his administration thus remains the same.
The premier says he will continue to pursue his major policies including his Abenomics package of economic measures, but his past pet projects such as regional revitalization and offering opportunities for everyone in Japan, don't seem to be receiving his enthusiastic backing anymore. The new Cabinet has just one woman, a substantial drop from a one-time high of five female ministers. Empowerment of women, which also was Abe's signature policy goal, does not appear to be in front and center of his policy portfolio.
The prime minister has said that he will "reform the social security system in three years in an age when people have a lifespan of 100 years." To achieve this goal, an all-out effort by the entire government is necessary to counter depopulation and a concentration of people in Tokyo, and to reform state revenue sources including raising the consumption tax.
The premier likened his new Cabinet to a tightly knit baseball team with all players and coaches doing their parts to help each other. But we wonder if the Cabinet, with the current setup, can serve for a long period.