Japan PM Tweaks Cabinet Lineup, Draws Fire From Opposition

First Published Monday, 27th June 2011 12:44 pm - © 2011 Dow Jones


TOKYO -(Dow Jones)- Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Monday appointed new ministers specifically in charge of quake reconstruction and nuclear issues, in an attempt to demonstrate his commitment to the monumental task of bringing the crisis triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami under control.

The minor Cabinet reshuffle--which also combined seemingly unrelated posts to allow the addition of new ministers without exceeding the legal limit of 17--drew rapid criticism from both within the prime minister's own party and the opposition, further exacerbating the political deadlock.

Kan appointed environment minister Ryu Matsumoto as reconstruction minister and prime minister's aide Goshi Hosono as nuclear minister, the government's top spokesman said.

"He will be in charge of bringing the nuclear accident under control and preventing a recurrence," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said, referring to Hosono's appointment.

Kan also tapped an opposition lawmaker to act as an aid to the reconstruction minister, an attempt to gain opposition support for the government's reconstruction efforts, widely criticized for being slow and inefficient.

But the unexpected appointment of a relative political novice from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party only antagonized LDP leaders, who were caught off guard, provoking suspicion in an already fraught relationship.

Matsumoto will be in charge of the disaster reconstruction task force, created under a law passed last week to build the basic administrative framework to speed the recovery effort. The task force is under the direct supervision of the prime minister.

It will be a temporary Cabinet office until a formal reconstruction agency with legal authority to draft and enforce policies and issue construction bonds is created. That is expected to take at least several months.

The delay in appointing the reconstruction minister is likely to further erode support for the embattled prime minister. Last week, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the appointment might be made by Friday.

Kan has been severely criticized for taking three months to lay the basic administrative foundation for rebuilding from the disaster.

Moreover, Kan's strategy of adding former political scientist and first-term LDP lawmaker Kazuyuki Hamada to his Cabinet seems to have backfired.

After Hamada expressed his intent to accept the position and withdraw from the LDP, Kyodo News quoted LDP deputy secretary-general Masahiko Shibayama as saying: "Leaving the LDP only prolongs Kan's premiership. It's unfathomable."

The secretary-general and number-two of Kan's own Democratic Party of Japan, Katsuya Okada, also sounded less than enthusiastic.

"There were worried voices," Okada said about Kan's decision to add Hamada to the leadership team. "But what's been decided is decided, so we have to do our best under the circumstances."

The appointments come days after the ruling DPJ forced through a 70-day extension of the lower house parliamentary session over LDP objections.

Earlier in June, Kan narrowly escaped a no-confidence vote by promising to resign in the near future. He has since rapidly lost support from his own party as well as the opposition.

The exact timing of his resignation has become the dominant political issue, which the premier has refused to clarify, even at the urging of senior DPJ officials.

With the opposition refusing to pass key bills as long as Kan stays, the government is unable to issue deficit-covering bonds, which account for 40% of the current fiscal-year budget.

-By Toko Sekiguchi, Dow Jones Newswires; 813-6269-2787; toko.sekiguchi@dowjones.com

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