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Many Faces in Japan's New Gov't Belong to Allies of PM Abe

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida gestures as he is elected as new head of the ruling party in Tokyo, Japan, Sep. 29, 2021.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida gestures as he is elected as new head of the ruling party in Tokyo, Japan, Sep. 29, 2021.

Japan's Fumio Kishida will formally take office as prime minister on Monday, with a government that includes numerous allies of former premier Shinzo Abe, whose conservative base is thus assured of retaining influence over the new cabinet.

Kishida, 64, a former foreign minister with an image as a low-key consensus builder, beat out three contenders last week to lead the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and become prime minister, as the party holds a majority in parliament.

He will also lead it through a general election public broadcaster NHK has said will be held on Oct. 31, at a time when criticism over outgoing prime minister Yoshihide Suga's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has battered party support ratings.

"I want to face this time ahead with strong feelings and strong determination," Kishida told reporters on Monday.

Of the 20 posts in his cabinet, 13 will be filled by people with no prior cabinet experience, in line with Kishida's pledge to give chances to new people, but a number of heavyweight jobs will go to allies of Abe or outgoing finance minister Taro Aso.

"There are a lot of fresh faces, but I don't get the impression they'll raise Kishida's popularity much," said political analyst Atsuo Ito.

One of those close to Abe is newly appointed LDP secretary-general, Akira Amari. Set to replace Aso is his brother-in-law, Shunichi Suzuki, who is little known, even in

Japan, and is viewed as likely to continue the government's policy of tempering growth spending with fiscal reform.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe's brother, will retain their posts, media said.

The key position of chief cabinet secretary is to be taken by Hirokazu Matsuno, an education minister under Abe, while the current minister, and Abe ally, Koichi Hagiuda, is set to be trade and industry minister, the point person on energy policy.

Fresh faces

Takayuki Kobayashi, tapped for the new post of economic security, is allied with Amari, who is an architect of Japan's economic security policies aimed at China to protect sensitive technology.

There are three women in the line-up, one more than Suga had, but none holds a heavyweight portfolio.

The soft-spoken Kishida, from a traditionally dovish party faction, had already moved to the right during the leadership campaign, reflecting a shift in the LDP, as well as the likelihood that he would need Abe's help to win.

Abe's tough stance towards an increasingly assertive China, albeit leaving open the chance of dialogue in view of Beijing's economic clout, is also likely to underpin any new diplomatic policies.

"He won the election with the support of Abe and Aso, so now it's time for him to return the favor, it's not the time for him to cut them off," said Ito, adding that Kishida tended to prioritize safety over bold action.

"Whether this means they'll control the cabinet or not, we'll have to wait and see."

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