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Prime Minister shuffles cabinet to quiet opposition

Date Posted: 2012-01-19

Japan’s Prime Minister has shuffled and shaken up his Cabinet, trying to blunt criticisms levied by the opposition parties, and trying to improve public relations by ridding his administration of controversial leaders.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda wants to win over opposition parties in support of his financial programs, including raising the consumption tax, and saw several ministers as a detriment to his lobbying. Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa, who angered Okinawans with his negative comments about not knowing American servicemen raped a young Okinawa schoolgirl, and who was censured by the Upper House, is now gone.

So is Consumer Affairs Minister Kenji Yamaoka, who was also censured by the opposition-controlled Upper House. Aside from that, Noda removed only three others of his 17 ministers during the reshuffle. He also appointed Katsuya Okada, a former Democratic Party of Japan leader, as Deputy Prime Minister.

Noda needs the Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition party lawmakers to get behind his consumption tax bill. The DPJ lacks a majority in the House of Councilors, the upper House, and he took the risk of splitting the party with his reshuffling. If his gamble fails and opposition lawmakers don’t support Noda, political observers say Noda’s regime will crumble. Noda says it won’t, predicting the reshuffle will “strengthen the ability” of his government to pass meaningful tax reform.

Okada, while DPJ secretary general, spent a lot of time negotiating with the LDP and other opposition parties. He’ll serve as Noda’s lead negotiator in forging a coalition to pass the tax and social security reforms. Okada says “all political parties cooperated for the sake of the nation and the population after the disasters of March 11th,” adding “I am confident we’ll be able to find a way to hold discussions on social security and tax reform.

Naoki Tanaka, an Upper House member and DPJ leader who’s been the party administration committee chairman, has taken the reigns as Defesnse Minister, while the senor vice transport minister, Jin Matsubara, is the new Consumer Affairs Minister. He’ll double as head of the National Public Safety Commission, handling North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese citizens.

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