TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will draft the son of ex-premier Junichiro Koizumi in a broad cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday that will keep allies in key posts, media said, as Abe faces a tax rise and aims to amend the pacifist constitution.
Telegenic Shinjiro Koizumi regularly tops lists of lawmakers whom voters favor to succeed Abe.
He is expected to be one of 13 new ministers among 19 to be appointed and at 38 years of age will be the third-youngest to win a portfolio in post-war Japan, media said.
Koizumi’s expected appointment as environment minister, although to one of the less powerful cabinet posts, could give a popularity boost to the new line-up.
It could also bolster Koizumi’s chance of competing to succeed Abe when the prime minister’s term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party chief ends in September 2021.
Abe, who returned to power in December 2012 promising to reboot the economy and bolster defense, is already on track to become Japan’s longest-serving premier in November.
Koizumi – popularly called Shinjiro to distinguish him from his father – grabbed headlines last month with news that he would marry Christel Takigawa, a French-Japanese television presenter, and they will soon have a baby.
Abe, although drafting more than a dozen new faces, is set to retain his close allies, Finance Minister Taro Aso, 78, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, 70, media reported.
Both have served in their posts since Abe returned to office.
“Abe is drafting 13 new ministers but many in the cabinet are close allies,” said University of Tokyo professor Yu Uchiyama. “There is not such a feeling of freshness.”
The cabinet appointments will be announced later on Wednesday and officials have not confirmed the media reports.
Aso must help ensure the economy weathers an increase in the sales tax to 10% from 8% in October, which could dampen consumption when a U.S.-China trade war is clouding growth.
Abe kept veteran lawmaker Toshihiro Nikai, 80, as LDP secretary general and Fumio Kishida – also considered a possible heir to the premier – as party policy chief, the party announced.
POSSIBLE HEIRS, CONSTITUTION REFORM
Several likely ministers are also seen as possible contenders to succeed Abe, including his right-hand aide Suga.
Another would-be premier is Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, 63, a Harvard-educated lawmaker with a reputation as a tough negotiator who is likely to become foreign minister, replacing Taro Kono.
Motegi will probably stay in charge of trade talks with the United States ahead of a deadline for a deal this month, media have said.
Kono, 56, another potential future premier, is in line to become defense minister, media said.
A fluent English speaker well-known in Washington, Kono has a reputation as a maverick. He has been on the front line of Japan’s feud with South Korea over wartime history and trade.
Another Abe ally and potential future premier, former health, labor and welfare minister Katsunobu Kato, was set to return to his old post, media said.
Abe will also appoint a former Olympic speed skater, Seiko Hashimoto, as Olympics minister to prepare for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, one of two women likely to win posts, media said.
Abe, who could seek a rare fourth term as LDP leader in 2021 if party rules change, has made clear he intends to pursue his goal of revising the post-war, U.S.-drafted constitution to clarify the status of the military.
The charter, if taken literally, bans a standing military but has been stretched to allow armed forces for self-defense.
Abe’s task got tougher when his LDP-led coalition lost its two-thirds majority in a July upper house election. Amendments to the charter require approval by two-thirds of each chamber of parliament and a majority in a referendum.
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