Japan's prime minister reshuffles cabinet

Yoshihiko Noda appoints former foreign minister to spearhead widely unpopular sales tax reforms.

    Japanese politics has been marked by recent instability, with six prime ministers in as many years [AFP]

    Yoshihiko Noda, the Japanese prime minister, has replaced five members of his cabinet and appointed a veteran former foreign minister to push unpopular tax reforms through parliament.

    Announcing the reshuffle on Friday, Osamu Fujimura, the chief cabinet secretary, said the changes would "strengthen our government to tackle the major policy goal of social security and tax reforms".

    Twelve posts were unchanged, including those of finance and foreign minister, but Katsuya Okada was named as Noda's deputy with responsibility for reform of Japan's social security and tax systems.

    The Japanese prime minister has been trying hard to win more co-operation from the opposition to raise sales tax and rein in the country's bulging fiscal deficit.

    Noda, who took office in September, has promised to submit a bill in the next parliamentary session to raise the five per cent sales tax in two stages to 10 per cent by 2015.

    The tax rise is unpopular in the country at large, but analysts say it is necessary if Japan is to get a handle on its debt, which presently stands at about 200 per cent of GDP.

    Divided parliament

    Tomohiko Taniguchi, Keio University, Tokyo told Al Jazeera: "He [Noda] is going to propose a tax hike, while at the same time he intends to reduce the number of legislators in the parliament. Also he is proposing to reduce salaries of government employees."

    "It will take couple of cabinets if you look at history of Japanese politics. He wants to prevail and in order for him to do this in the coming Diet [parliament] session due to start soon he needs to increase his political capital," he said.

    "He knows that once he has succeeded in doing this he is going to remain the prime minister.

    "And he is going to continue to be the prime minister in order for him to tackle the next big ticket which is probably about national security, but I am not sure what exactly that’s going to be."

    Two of the removed ministers had been censured by the opposition, including Yasuo Ichikawa, the former defence minister, who claimed he was unaware of the details of a 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by three US servicemen on the island of Okinawa.

    The opposition, which controls the less powerful upper house of parliament, had threatened to reject any discussion about key tax legislation unless Ichikawa was fired.

    Noda's public approval rating has slid below 40 per cent amid resistance to tax rises and a general lack of confidence in political leadership in Japan, which has seen a new prime minister every year for the past six years.

    Japan's divided parliament makes it difficult for Noda to pass legislation, while the tax issue has divided the ruling Democratic party.

    Noda has said his government's priorities also include leading reconstruction efforts after last March's devastating tsunami and bringing "rebirth" to the area around the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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