Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe's reshuffled Cabinet at the prime minister's office on Sept. 11 (Yuta Takahashi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reshuffled Cabinet reflects the inward-looking logic of rewarding loyalists and heeding the wishes of major factions within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Although 17 of the 19 Cabinet members have been replaced, and 13 rookie ministers have received posts, the new lineup fails to give an impression of freshness.

Abe reorganized the Cabinet and the LDP leadership team on Sept. 11 in a move to translate the results of the July Upper House election into top personnel changes.

Adopting the slogan of “securing stability and tackling challenges,” Abe has retained the holders of four key Cabinet and party posts--Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida.

In our editorials, The Asahi Shimbun has repeatedly urged Aso to resign to take political responsibility for an unprecedented scandal involving his ministry. The Finance Ministry has admitted to falsifying official documents concerning the dubious sale of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen, an Osaka-based school operator linked to Abe’s wife, Akie.

We cannot support Abe’s regrettable decision to retain Aso as his deputy and the finance minister.

In addition, Abe has picked Koichi Hagiuda, executive acting LDP secretary-general, as education minister despite his suspected involvement in the scandal over the government’s decision to allow the Kake Educational Institution, run by a close friend of Abe, to open a new veterinary medicine faculty.

The moves indicate Abe thinks that both the Moritomo and Kake scandals have been thrown into the dustbin of history although the truth about them has yet to be cleared up.

In June 2017, education ministry documents came to light, quoting Hagiuda as telling a senior ministry official that the prime minister had set a deadline for the decision to approve the Kake Educational Institution as the operator of the faculty so that it could open in April 2018.

Hagiuda allegedly made the remarks in October 2016, when he was deputy chief Cabinet secretary for the Abe administration.

Although Hagiuda denied ever making those comments, this suspicion needs to be cleared up if he is going to head the education ministry.

Hagiuda has the responsibility of offering all the explanations required to convince the Diet of the credibility of his claims.

He is not the only politician with political stripes similar to Abe’s who received a Cabinet position.

Seiichi Eto, who has been promoted from the post of a special adviser to Abe to state minister in charge of promoting dynamic engagement of all citizens, his first Cabinet post, has been a leading figure of Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), a conservative organization that calls for the establishment of a new Constitution.

Sanae Takaichi, another close Abe ally who has been returned to the post of internal affairs and communications minister, has been criticized for putting political pressure on broadcasters.

She had suggested the possibility of retracting the broadcast license of a broadcaster that, according to her judgment, repeatedly aired politically unfair programs. This should not be forgotten.

Members of the LDP faction led by Shigeru Ishiba, the former defense minister and LDP secretary-general, were again denied posts in an apparent reprisal to Ishiba’s decision to challenge Abe in the LDP presidential election in September 2018.

Although Abe appointed Shinjiro Koizumi, who had supported Ishiba’s bid in that election, as environment minister, Abe’s policy of punishing politicians and groups critical of his leadership only promotes the now-notorious “sontaku” practice of acting to accommodate the assumed wishes and intentions of the powerful leader.

Koizumi, as a member of the Abe Cabinet, will be tested on whether he can maintain his political integrity by showing a willingness to continue criticizing Abe’s policies and behavior.

At a news conference after the Cabinet reshuffle, Abe talked about the challenges his new team should tackle. After citing a list of issues concerning domestic and foreign policies, including a shift to a social security system beneficial for all generations, Abe said the challenge that lies beyond these issues will be revising the postwar Constitution for the first time.

However, it is hard to believe the public is eager to see the Abe administration tackle this issue now.

The prime minister should avoid making misguided decisions concerning the challenges he should deal with in the remaining two years of his term as LDP president.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 12