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Japan's Prime Minister Shuffles Cabinet to Reform Postal System - 2004-09-27

For the third time since he took office in 2001, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has made changes to his Cabinet. The premier installed a team of ministers and top party officials whom he expects will back his key reform efforts.

Monday's long-anticipated Cabinet shuffle is controversial, not because of who has been selected, but because of the way Prime Minister Koizumi chose its members.

Mr. Koizumi angered many in his Liberal Democratic Party by abandoning the tradition of appointing ministers suggested by the party's major factions. He made clear that the test this time was the individual's willingness to support the privatization of Japan's postal system.

Tsutomu Takebe, the LDP's newly appointed secretary general, says a cabinet priority will be bureaucratic and administrative reform, and change in the postal system is a central element.

Mr. Takebe says he was told by the prime minister to devote himself to postal privatization and other reforms by deepening communications among the party's factions.

Many in the LDP's old guard are strongly opposed to breaking up and privatizing the postal system, which includes the world's biggest savings bank.

To demonstrate the importance Mr. Koizumi attaches to the privatization, he has appointed Economics Minister Heizo Takenaka to a second, new portfolio of postal reform minister.

One of the highest profile changes was at the Foreign Ministry. Yoriko Kawaguchi, who was criticized for a lack of clout because she is not a member of parliament, was succeeded as foreign minister by former Education Minister Nobutaka Machimura.

Another prominent change: hawkish Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba has been replaced by veteran lawmaker Yoshinori Ono.

Sadakazu Tanigaki has been retained as Finance Minister, considered the most powerful domestic cabinet post.