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PM Abe picks close aides for senior LDP positions to increase his involvement

From left to right, Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, General Council Chairman Katsunobu Kato and Election Strategy Headquarters chief Akira Amari pose for a picture following the announcement of the LDP personnel reshuffle at a press conference at the ruling party' headquarters in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Oct. 2, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe picked his close aides for senior positions in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in an apparent bid to strengthen his involvement in party management.

In his Oct. 2 LDP personnel reshuffle, Abe chose former economic revitalization minister Akira Amari as the head of the LDP Election Strategy Headquarters, and former Health Minister Katsunobu Kato as the chairman of the General Council, the party's decision-making body. Both politicians have been supporting Abe.

Amari met with senior representatives of a political federation formed by liquor retailers at the party's headquarters in Tokyo on Oct. 5. The group was seeking the party's official backing for its candidates in the proportional representation section of the House of Councillors election next summer. He revealed in his email magazine dated Oct. 4 that Abe had asked him to be "a commander in a year of battle with many elections." Spring next year will see general local elections.

Amari had been a main pillar of the Abe administration since 2012, along with Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, until Amari left the Cabinet in January 2016 over his influence-peddling allegation.

According to senior LDP officials, there was a plan to name Amari as the head of the General Council, but he turned it down outright. He did so because he didn't want to attend regular press conferences as General Council chairman and answer questions about the allegation, some people pointed out.

Meanwhile, Kato replaced Wataru Takeshita, head of his intraparty faction who supported former party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba in the Sept. 20 LDP leadership race against the premier. Kato is a son-in-law of former Farm Minister Mutsuki Kato, and his mother-in-law is a longtime acquaintance of Abe's mother. Kato and the premier are well known for their closeness. Kato held positions such as deputy chief Cabinet secretary, minister in charge of promoting the dynamic engagement of all citizens, and health minister.

General Council chief is a post for party bigwigs, and it is rare for someone like Kato who has only six election wins under his belt to be appointed to the post. Abe apparently wants to rear him as a candidate for future president of the LDP, and some observers say that the former health minister was tapped as a successor to Abe.

Another close aide to Abe, former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada became a special adviser to the LDP president and chief deputy secretary-general of the LDP. She resigned her previous post in July last year over the Self-Defense Forces' cover-up of local daily logs of its troops deployed to South Sudan as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Inada was first elected to the Diet in 2005 with the backing of the prime minister.

Koichi Hagiuda, another politician very close to Abe, remains in his position as acting secretary-general. He is the No. 2 in the office of Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, who runs most important party affairs. Hagiuda will continue to serve as a main link between the party and the prime minister's office.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Tanaka and Yusuke Matsukura, Political News Department)

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