New Abe Cabinet must dispel inertia, tackle thorny tasks / Actively deal with deflation, trade talks

The Yomiuri ShimbunPrime Minister Shinzo Abe embarked on a personnel shake-up to resolidify the foundations of both the Cabinet and the Liberal Democratic Party. Dispelling inertia, the new Cabinet must tackle thorny challenges the nation faces both at home and abroad, and achieve results.

Having won a third straight term as the ruling LDP’s president in a party election, Abe inaugurated his new Cabinet, the fourth reshuffled cabinet under his leadership. While placing powerful figures in important posts, Abe also positively appointed legislators who had no previous Cabinet post.

It was a lineup making efforts to secure the stability of the administration and reinvigorate the party.

Respecting factions

At a news conference, Abe said: “While looking hard at the future, we will strongly advance new nation-building. I have brought together personnel who are highly competent in practical matters.”

Abe reappointed Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and the party’s Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, who hold the key posts in the Cabinet and the party. He also retained Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, despite lingering question of where responsibility lies with regard to a scandal involving the Finance Ministry. So long as Aso continues to have important duties, he must exercise his leadership to restore trust in the ministry.

Abe retained Fumio Kishida as chairman of the party’s Policy Research Council, apparently signifying his treating Kishida as one of the leading candidates to succeed him.

A significant characteristic of the new Cabinet is that there are 12 first-timers, the largest number ever in an Abe cabinet. Many of the first-timers are those who had long wanted cabinet posts. Abe’s consideration of factions that supported him in the presidential election can be perceived.

While Abe did not appoint Shigeru Ishiba — former secretary general of the party who competed with Abe in the presidential race — to any post, he did appoint a legislator who belongs to Ishiba’s faction as new Cabinet member. It can be understood that Abe thus showed a certain consideration for intraparty harmony.

It will soon be the seventh year since Abe returned to the premiership, but he will not be allowed to choose the safest way. If he only catches up on immediate tasks in a haphazard manner, a sense of weariness could spread among the people.

With the slackness and arrogance due to the long-lasting administration becoming conspicuous, it is important for the Cabinet as a whole to retain its sense of tension and implement policies by clarifying their focus. Abe should take to heart that if they fail to make such efforts, his Cabinet will soon stall.

In order to make an overall finish for his administration, Abe needs to win the House of Councillors election next summer. It is important for him to steadily cut down pending problems both at home and abroad from this autumn to next year.

The Emperor will abdicate on April 30 next year, and Crown Prince Naruhito will accede to the throne on May 1. A series of rituals and changing the name of the era must be carried out smoothly.

In order to overcome deflation — a target pursued since his administration was inaugurated — it is vital to make economic growth sustainable by advancing higher-priority measures, such as regulatory easing and growth strategy.

Reform social security

The consumption tax rate will be raised to 10 percent in October next year. The prime minister should facilitate an economic environment, once and for all, that can withstand the tax increase.

Establishing a social security system that will serve all generations is a task that cannot be postponed.

It is important to improve social security benefits for the next generation while also curtailing the swell in medical, nursing care and pension expenditures. System reforms that entail an increase in burdens cannot be avoided. It will be the responsibility of politics to carry out the reforms while gaining the understanding of the people.

Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has been named to concurrently serve as minister in charge of social security reforms. He will likely cooperate with Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto in tackling the task. It is essential for the prime minister to spearhead the reform effort.

Trade negotiations with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump are expected to face difficulties, as his government adheres to the immediate goal of reducing his nation’s trade deficit.

To maintain the free trade system and protect our Japan’s national interests, Japan must build constructive trade relations with the United States. It is necessary to organize carefully thought out arrangements for negotiations.

To mark an end to all the problems left unsettled under Japan’s postwar diplomacy, the prime minister is set to make all-out efforts to resolve the northern territories issue and the problem of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals. The decision to retain Foreign Minister Taro Kono in his position and place Suga in charge of the abduction problem can be described as a sign of the prime minister’s determination in this respect.

To bring the longstanding problems to a resolution, it is important to repeat working-level talks based on a carefully crafted strategy, thereby aiming to settle them through summit diplomacy.

In reshuffling the LDP’s top officials, the prime minister has worked out a lineup suited to make headway in amending the Constitution, a task he has longed to complete.

For the post of General Council chairman, he picked former health minister Katsunobu Kato, whom Abe holds in high esteem. This is because the approval of the General Council is indispensable for finalizing an LDP draft for constitutional amendments. For the position of chief of the Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, the prime minister chose former education minister Hakubun Shimomura, with whom Abe has close ties.

Follow procedures

It is significant to revise Article 9 of the Constitution and cast aside the argument that the Self-Defense Forces are unconstitutional. Abe should make efforts to form a consensus within the LDP in cooperation with Nikai and Kishida and promote coordination with Komeito and others.

Constantly debating what the Constitution should be like is a duty of the Diet. It is important to urge opposition parties to reinvigorate stagnant discussions at the Commission on the Constitution in each chamber of the Diet. That could help widen public support for revision of the Constitution.

Revising the Constitution is a long process that starts with amendments being initiated by the Diet in the run-up to a national referendum. Carefully following procedures is indispensable.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 3, 2018)Speech


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