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Politics

Five things to know before Japan's cabinet reshuffle

Abe seeks to place possible successors while imparting a fresh image

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to announce his new cabinet members on Sept. 11.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will reshuffle his Cabinet on Wednesday. After convincingly winning the upper-house election in late July, Abe seeks to strengthen the Liberal Democratic Party's foundations.

This time around, the revamp could indicate who is in the running to be Abe's successor.

Here are five things to know about the Cabinet reshuffle.

Why now? 

Abe, the longest serving prime minister in post-war Japan, is set to end his term in 2021. The focus is now on a post-Abe LDP, and Abe is believed to be positioning potential successors in strategically key positions.

Therefore, all eyes are on who takes on the major ministerial positions.

Abe also intends to impart a fresh image on the cabinet after his nearly seven-year stint as prime minister by bringing in new faces. While this reshuffle could be received positively to some extent, if he chooses new members with a history of scandals, it could drain the Cabinet's support. 

Who is likely to remain?

From the early stage of the selection process, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Finance Minister Taro Aso have been said to be sure of keeping their positions.

Later in the race, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, and Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi were slated to stay in the Cabinet, though their positions are likely to change to defense minister and foreign minister, respectively.

Traditionally, key posts in the LDP have been reshuffled along with the cabinet members. In that sense, it is important to know that LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida is poised to stay on. Toshihiro Nikai is considered a significant force in the government, continuing as the LDP's secretary-general.

And the new faces?

A son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Shinjiro Koizumi is believed to be in the running for a Cabinet post in the reshuffle. He is known for being outspoken, is fairly popular among the public, and is seen as a possible contender for the prime minister position in the future.

From left to right: Yasutoshi Nishimura, Junko Mihara, Shinjiro Koizumi, Seiko Hashimoto and Toshimitsu Motegi. 

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura, one of Abe's closest aides, is also believed to have a chance.

How many female candidates are in the running?

Since Abe returned to power in 2012, he has been pushing for what he calls "womenomics" -- encouraging more women to work, and in a better environment. He is therefore believed to be considering having more female ministers in the Cabinet. He may also have his eye on female voters in upcoming elections.

Two names have emerged as strong candidates so far.

Seiko Hashimoto, 54, is rumored to be a candidate for minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. A former speed skater and cyclist and an Olympic bronze medalist, she has participated in a total of seven summer and winter Olympic games. Currently, she serves as vice president at Japanese Olympic Committee.

Junko Mihara, 54, is another contender. The former actress could put to use her experience serving as director of the Women's Affairs Division and deputy director of the Health, Labor and Welfare Division at the LDP.

How will the reshuffle impact diplomatic relations?

Kono, currently Japan's top diplomat, will be given the defense ministry, as Abe evaluated his tough stance against South Korea over the issue of wartime compensation. Kono is expected to strengthen the relationship with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to handle the rising threat of North Korea amid South Korea's decision to cut intelligence ties with Japan.

Abe is set to appoint Motegi as foreign minister after Kono. Abe thinks highly of Motegi's competence as a negotiator, particularly his work leading to the basic agreement on a trade deal with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

An experienced politician, Motegi served as senior vice-minister for foreign affairs in the first Koizumi Cabinet, and later trade minister and minister in charge of economic revitalization.

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