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Cabinet Reshuffles Stabilizes Abe Administration

SNA (Tokyo) — This Week in Japan is your source for news and information about politics and other happenings in this East Asian island country. This episode covers the Top Five stories of the first week of August 2017.

One. On August 3, Shinzo Abe reshuffled his Cabinet, bringing in a number of familiar faces. Notably, Itsunori Onodera returned as Defense Minister in hopes that his veteran hand could stabilize the administration there after the debacle of the Tomomi Inada era. Also notable was the appointment of one of the ruling party’s most progressive lawmakers, Taro Kono, as the new Foreign Minister. Public opinion polls taken after the reshuffle suggested that the reshuffle achieved its immediate goal. Abe Cabinet approval bounced back to the mid- to high- thirty percentile range, giving the prime minister some breathing room to regain his political footing.

Two. Independent House of Representatives lawmaker Masaru Wakasa revealed this week that he had legally established a new political party whose name roughly translates into English as the Japan First Association. Wakasa is a key loyalist to popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, and the new party, once fully operational, is expected to operate as the pro-Koike voice within the National Diet. Both the ruling LDP as well as the main opposition Democratic Party are on guard, fearful that a substantial number of their lawmakers might defect to Koike’s banner, once it is unfurled. One point to watch carefully, however, will be the attitude adopted by the Komeito party, which is currently Koike’s ally in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, but the Abe government’s ally in the National Diet.

Three. Goshi Hosono, the former Minister of the Environment under the Noda government, applied to resign from the struggling main opposition Democratic Party. Until April, Hosono was a deputy leader of the party and head of his own group of lawmakers within the opposition party. His defection comes as another blow as he is the second prominent conservative, following Akihisa Nagashima, to recently leave the party. The timing was also rather strange as the Democratic Party is now gearing up for a leadership contest between Yukio Edano, backed mostly by party liberals, and Seiji Maehara, backed mostly by conservatives with views similar to that of Hosono.

Four. The fatal accident involving an Osprey aircraft off the coast of Australia reignited the fears Japanese, especially those in Okinawa, who have long been arguing that this type of aircraft is inherently dangerous and a menace to public welfare. Responding to this concern, new Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera requested that the US military keep its Osprey aircraft in Japan grounded until full information about the latest accident was provided and measures to ensure safety elucidated. Somewhat surprisingly, the US military made no effort to respond at all, simply ignoring the Japanese government’s request and causing them to publicly lose face. The new minister for Okinawa responded with a comment that the Status of Forces Agreement should be revised, though past experience suggests that the Abe government will quickly bow down to whatever Washington’s policy may be.

Five. Yasunori Kagoike and his wife Junko, operators of the rightwing Moritomo Gakuen educational business, were arrested in Osaka on charges of defrauding public subsidies for the construction of the Mizuho no Kuni Elementary School, which they had originally planned to name after their former hero, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This arrest reminded many people that Yasunori Kagoike’s charges that he received illegal donations from the prime minister and his wife have never been convincingly answered. The ruling LDP once again refused to call Akie Abe to testify in the Diet, leading many people to conclude that the Kagoikes were being used as political scapegoats, whatever their real offenses may have been.