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New Cabinet Announced in Japan - 2003-09-22


In a much-anticipated reshuffle, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has installed several new Cabinet ministers in a bid to bolster his economic reform policies. Mr. Koizumi chose a new finance minister but reappointed the architect of banking reform.

Japan's chief government spokesman reads out the new Cabinet lineup Monday on a national television broadcast. As expected, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi replaced a few key ministers, naming lawyer Sadakazu Tanigaki the finance minister and legislator Takeo Kawamura as education minister.

To the relief of Japan's financial markets, he reappointed Heizo Takenaka, who holds two of the most important portfolios, economics and financial services. Mr. Takenaka is a key supporter of the prime minister's financial reform agenda, and his strict policies are highly controversial. Many lawmakers oppose his plan to rid Japan's banks of their mountains of bad debts, saying such a move could destabilize the economy.

At a news conference, Mr. Takenaka says there are many opinions regarding his two portfolios, but the prime minister has ordered him to push ahead. He says he thinks this indicates the prime minister's strong will to proceed with structural reforms and says he is bracing himself for the challenge.

Many Japanese were surprised that Prime Minister Koizumi also retained his foreign minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi. Many members of his Liberal Democratic Party had pushed him to drop her because she, like Mr. Takenaka, comes from the private sector and not from the ranks of elected lawmakers.

Ms. Kawaguchi tells reporters that she will continue to handle Japan's foreign affairs. She says the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korea for spying purposes in the 1970's and 1980's tops her agenda, along with concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons development.

Mr. Koizumi was re-elected president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) by a landslide Saturday, ensuring that he will stay on as prime minister for a second three-year term. The LDP and its coalition partners dominate the country's Parliament and no opposition parties are strong enough to unseat the party.

Political analysts interviewed by local media programs say the cabinet changes show the maverick prime minister wants to pursue the policies he believes will revive Japan's economy and raise its profile on the world stage. They say he has selected a Cabinet that vows to firmly support him as he pushes forward with his goals ahead of a general election expected to be held in November.

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