Asia

Japan’s Abe, headed for longest premiership, seeks stability in Cabinet reshuffle

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will likely pick a former Olympic speed skater to prepare for the 2020 Games and keep allies in key posts in a Cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday (Sep 11) as he readies a tax rise and aims to revise the pacifist constitution.

Speculation has swirled that Abe, poised to become Japan's longest-serving premier in November, will hand a post to Shinjiro Koizumi, 38, the popular son of an ex-prime minister whom surveys show voters favour as the next leader, but expectations have waned recently.

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Abe is set to retain Finance Minister Taro Aso, 78, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, 70, both of whom have served in their positions since the conservative leader returned to office in 2012, promising to reboot the economy and bolster the military, political sources and media said.

Aso must help ensure the economy weathers an October increase in the sales tax to 10 per cent from 8 per cent that could dampen consumption when a US-China trade war is clouding growth.

Abe is also poised to keep veteran lawmaker Toshihiro Nikai, 80, as Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) secretary general, the party's number two post, political sources and media said.

Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, 63, a Harvard-educated lawmaker with a reputation as a tough negotiator, will take over at the foreign ministry from Taro Kono.

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But Motegi will probably stay in charge of trade talks with the United States ahead of a deadline for a deal later this month, media reported.

Kono, a fluent English speaker who is well-known in Washington and has been on the front line of Japan's feud with South Korea over wartime history and trade, is in line to become defence minister, media reported.

Kono, 56, who has a reputation as a maverick and is sometimes mentioned as a possible successor to Abe, would replace Takeshi Iwaya, who upset some ruling LDP colleagues in June by smiling when he met his South Korean counterpart.

"Abe's keeping control and it's his people running the show," said Jesper Koll, senior advisor at asset manager WisdomTree Japan.

"He's the anti-Trump – it's a bastion of stability compared to the 'draining of the swamp' in America and gridlock in Europe."

Seiko Hashimoto, a seven-time woman Olympian who competed in both speed skating and cycling, is expected to become Olympics minister to oversee Japan&#039