Public support for Prime Minister Abe has plummeted in recent months over an array of political troubles, including allegations of favouritism to a friend in a business deal.
Public support for Prime Minister Abe has plummeted in recent months over an array of political troubles, including allegations of favouritism to a friend in a business deal.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday dumped arch-conservatives and embraced critical voices in a cabinet revamp he hopes will stem a decline in public support after a series of scandals and missteps.

Political blueblood Abe, in office since late December 2012, has pushed a nationalist agenda alongside a massive policy effort to end years of on-off deflation and rejuvenate the world's third-largest economy.

But he has seen public support rates plummet in the past few months over an array of political troubles, including allegations of favouritism to a friend in a business deal – which Abe strongly denies.

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffered a drubbing in local Tokyo elections last month, which analysts and newspapers blamed on an increasing "arrogance" on the part of the prime minister.

"I deeply regret that my shortcomings have invited this situation," a chastened Abe said earlier in the day ahead of the announcement of the cabinet changes.

Abe reappointed former defence minister Itsunori Onodera after close ally and fellow nationalist Tomomi Inada resigned from the post last week following a scandal at the ministry over the handling of military documents.

He also tapped a pair of lawmakers who have opposed some of his policies.

New foreign minister Taro Kono is the son of a dovish top diplomat known for issuing a landmark 1993 apology as chief cabinet secretary over Japan's use of "comfort women" – a euphemism for sex slavery – in World War II.

The US-educated 54 year old is known as an independent-minded, anti-nuclear power advocate, in sharp contrast to Abe's support for atomic energy.

US-educated Taro Kono is known as an independent-minded, anti-nuclear power advocate, in sharp contrast to Abe's support for atomic energy. (Reuters)
US-educated Taro Kono is known as an independent-minded, anti-nuclear power advocate, in sharp contrast to Abe's support for atomic energy. (Reuters)

Kono replaced Fumio Kishida, who served as top diplomat since Abe came to power and is often seen as a future prime minister. Kishida moved to a top post in the LDP.

Crucial issues

Seiko Noda, 56, at one time hailed as Japan's most likely first female prime minister and who in 2015 tried to challenge Abe for the LDP leadership, was named internal affairs minister.

Seiko Noda is another close Abe ally with strongly nationalist views. (Reuters)
Seiko Noda is another close Abe ally with strongly nationalist views. (Reuters)

Inada, the former defence minister, delighted conservatives during her tenure but drew domestic and international criticism in December when she prayed at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo.

Returning defence chief Onodera, 57, held the post for nearly two years until September 2014, and has vowed to restore unity and confidence within the ministry.

His appointment also comes amid rising tensions surrounding North Korea's missile development.

Pyongyang launched its latest missile late Friday, just hours after the US and Japan moved to step up sanctions against it following its earlier test of an ICBM capable of reaching parts of the United States.

"The environment surrounding our country, including the North Korean nuclear and missile issue, is becoming increasingly severe," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

"In terms of diplomacy, we have a mountain of crucial issues," he added. "I'm certain the new foreign minister will tackle them."

The new cabinet was announced by Suga, the government's top spokesman.

Suga, along with finance minister and deputy prime minister Taro Aso, were among officials who kept their posts.

Source: AFP