Isabel Reynolds and Emi Nobuhiro
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(Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promoted the country’s most popular young politician into his new cabinet, while packing the body with loyal, conservative allies as he heads into what could be the last two years of his leadership.
Abe, set to become the country’s longest-serving premier in November, kept his core team of Finance Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga unchanged in the lineup announced Wednesday. Nevertheless, 13 members of the 20-person new cabinet are be first-time ministers, according to public broadcaster NHK.
“To be blunt, there’s nothing fresh about it,” said Yu Uchiyama, a professor of political science at the University of Tokyo. “As he tries to change the constitution, I think he wants unity in the cabinet. They are conservative and they’re people who have been close to him for a long time.”
Shinjiro Koizumi, who polls have shown to be voters’ top choice to succeed Abe, will be environment minister, becoming the third-youngest cabinet member since World War II at age 38, according to public broadcaster NHK. The son of one of the country’s best-known premiers of recent years, Koizumi bolstered his already high profile last month when he announced his marriage to a well-known television presenter.
The post is seen as a junior position in a government that has faced criticism from the likes of ruling Liberal Democratic Party stalwart and current Defense Minister Taro Kono of paying insufficient attention to environmental policy.
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By contrast, other picks include Abe loyalists with a right-leaning tinge, as the premier struggles to make progress toward his long-held goal of revising the seven decade-old pacifist constitution. Abe’s term as party leader expires in two years, but LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai said Wednesday he would support Abe if he decided to run for an unprecedented fourth straight term.
One of the first major challenges facing the new government is an unpopular hike in the sales tax to 10% from 8% starting in October. Abe, seen as a steady hand over the world’s third-largest economy has enjoyed relatively strong public support with an opinion poll from NHK published this week showing that his government had a 48% approval rate.
Among the first-timers is Koichi Hagiuda, who has served as an aide to Abe in his role as LDP leader and was appointed Education Minister. Japan has sometimes gotten into spats over its school history textbooks with neighbors South Korea and China.
One of Hagiuda’s duties as aide was to deliver Abe’s regular offerings to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, but is seen by many in Asia as a symbol of its militarist past. Seiichi Eto, who released a video criticizing a U.S. statement of disappointment over Abe’s 2013 visit to Yasukuni, also enters the cabinet in a post overseeing the country’s response to its aging labor force.
Katsuyuki Kawai, known for his loyalty to Abe, becomes justice minister, while conservative Sanae Takaichi, one of two women in the cabinet, returns to the position of minister for internal affairs and communications, in which she has previously served. Yasutoshi Nishimura, another loyal Abe ally, enters the cabinet as economy minister, where he will handle the domestic aspects of a U.S. trade deal that may be signed as soon as this month.
(Updates with details and analyst comment)
To contact the reporters on this story: Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org;Emi Nobuhiro in Tokyo at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org, Jon Herskovitz, Henry Hoenig
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