TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shuffled his Cabinet and key party posts on Wednesday to strengthen his position before a key party leadership vote next year, bringing in a new defense minister and the country’s first female foreign minister since 2002.
Kishida appointed five women to the 19-member Cabinet, part of his attempt to buoy sagging support ratings for his previous male-dominated Cabinet, which had only two women. The five females match the number in two earlier Japanese Cabinets — in 2014 and 2001.
One of the five, former Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa, who approved the hangings in 2018 of a cult leader and six aides for a deadly 1995 subway nerve gas attack, was appointed foreign minister, replacing Yoshimasa Hayashi.
Minoru Kihara, who has been serving on the governing Liberal Democratic Party’s national security committee, was selected defense minister, replacing Yasukazu Hamada.
Kishida said the new Cabinet reflects his determination to adapt to recent rapid economic, security and technological changes and turn those into national strengths.
“There is a huge flow of change in front of us,” Kishida said at a news conference after the Cabinet’s swearing-in ceremony. “We cannot stand still just watching all these changes.”
Kishida said three pillars of his policy goals are an end to deflation, stronger diplomacy and security, and measures to address Japan’s rapid aging and declining population.
It is the second Cabinet shuffle since Kishida took office in October 2021, when he promised a fairer distribution of economic growth, measures to tackle Japan’s declining population and a stronger national defense. Russia’s war in Ukraine, rising energy prices and Japan’s soaring defense costs have created challenges in his tenure, keeping his support ratings at low levels.
Kishida’s three-year term as the conservative LDP’s president expires in September 2024, when he is expected to seek a second term. His faction in the party is the fourth largest, so he must stay on good terms with the others to maintain his position.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki, Digital Reform Minister Taro Kono and Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi were among six ministers who stayed.
The LDP supports traditional family values and gender roles, and the low number of female politicians in leadership positions is often criticized by women’s rights groups as democracy without women.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel welcomed the new Cabinet. “These appointments will bring a level of freshness, a level of energy and purposefulness in that endeavor that started two years ago” as Japan and the United States continue to elevate their security ties, Emanuel said in a telephone interview.
Opposition leaders expressed disappointment in the new Cabinet. “We recognize the increase of female ministers to five, but otherwise, (the new Cabinet) conveys no sense of what it actually wants to achieve,” said Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan executive Katsuya Okada.
Kishida told reporters Wednesday that he plans to compile a new economic package by the end of October to deal with rising gasoline and food prices.
Two people who lost posts in the shakeup had been touched by recent scandals.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tetsuro Nomura was reprimanded by Kishida and apologized after calling treated radioactive wastewater being released from the Fukushima nuclear power plant “contaminated,” a term China uses to characterize the water as unsafe. And magazine reports have alleged that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara influenced a police investigation of his wife over her ex-husband’s suspicious death.
Kishida last shuffled his Cabinet a year ago after Abe’s assassination revealed ties between senior governing party members and the Unification Church, a South Korea-based conservative religious group.