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Japan's Abe Reshuffles Cabinet and Ruling Party Leadership


Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has reshuffled both his cabinet and the leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party following the party's disastrous defeat in parliamentary elections last month. As Catherine Makino reports from Tokyo, Mr. Abe chose veteran lawmakers who agree with his conservative, pro-American agenda, in an attempt to restore public faith in his scandal-ridden government.

One of the main changes was the resignation of Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who is taking over as secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party.

The party was jolted in July when it lost control of the upper house of parliament for the first time since World War II. The vote was seen as a reaction to a series of missteps and scandals that have plagued the Abe administration almost since he took power last September.

Taro Aso, whose conservative views match those of Prime Minister Abe, now ranks second in the party. He said Monday that the July election results were the LDP's most devastating defeat since the war, and he says he will work hard to recover the public's confidence.

"The major job for our party, the Liberal Democratic Party, is to restore the people's trust in the party and show firm measures to deal with the people's concerns over the future," Aso said.

Mr. Abe appointed Nobutaka Machimura, who served as foreign minister during a previous diplomatic crisis with China, to replace Aso.

Masahiko Komura was named defense minister. Like Mr. Abe, he has taken a hard line toward North Korea, which kidnapped a number of Japanese citizens during the Cold War. Komura replaces Japan's first female defense minister, Yuriko Koike, who took her job only months ago.

The LDP continues to head the government despite July's defeat, because it still controls the more powerful lower house of parliament. However, some LDP members have called on Mr. Abe to resign, as a way of strengthening the party if elections were to be called in the lower
house as well.

But Mr. Abe refuses to step down, and announced after July's losses that he would reshuffle his cabinet instead.

Pema Gyalpo, a political commentator and professor of law at Toin University in Yokohama, does not believe the changes will restore the public's faith in Mr. Abe or the party.

"You see, they have not been able to recover from the shocking defeat that they had faced, and they think that if there is an election tomorrow they will face another humiliating defeat, and so therefore I think they are in very bad shape and they are not prepared to face an election immediately," Gyalpo said.

Mr. Abe has been criticized for filling ministerial posts with his cronies when he became prime minister. Three ministers have since been forced to resign, and one committed suicide after being implicated in a financial scandal.

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