Abe’s cabinet reshuffle

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, centre, leads the way, coming down the stairs for an official photo session following the first meeting of his reshuffled Cabinet at the prime ministers office in Tokyo, Japan, 11 September 2019 (Photo: AFLO/Natsuki Sakai).

Author: Aurelia George Mulgan, UNSW Canberra

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reshuffle of senior cabinet and ruling party posts on 11 September 2019 was guided by several priorities. Abe sought first to preserve the so-called ‘2A+1S’ (Shinzo Abe, Taro Aso and Yoshihide Suga), the key group in charge of running his government. The relationship between Abe and these stalwarts is characterised by unfailing mutual loyalty and support. They share one overriding objective: to preserve Abe’s premiership and his government at all costs. This joint sentiment is a key source of regime stability under Abe.

Just as important was Abe’s desire to keep the ruling party under the firm control of another staunch loyalist — Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai — who has proved indispensable in coordinating across the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on sensitive policy issues. He helped to deliver agricultural cooperative reform and has gone out of his way to demonstrate his credentials on constitutional reform. Abe regards him as having the best political skills in the party. All LDP prime ministers know that the ruling party can be an unreliable and unruly entity on policy issues and so Nikai is essential in helping to maintain tight control over LDP Diet members.

Other loyal operatives in Abe’s administration were also rewarded. Takashi Imai — the leading ‘Kantei bureaucrat‘ and foreign policy operative in Abe’s administration nicknamed ‘Abe’s avatar‘ – was given the post of ‘Special Adviser to the Prime Minister’. Similarly, Abe’s intelligence chief, former National Police Agency bureaucrat and the most frequent visitor to his office, Shigeru Kitamura, was appointed chief of the National Security Secretariat (NSS). He replaced the NSS’s first-ever head, the ‘irreplaceable’ Shotaro Yachi, who has been a trusted Abe emissary on a number of …continue reading