Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe enters his official residence in Tokyo, on August 3, 2017. (Photo by AP)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has reshuffled his cabinet by dumping arch-conservatives and picking critical voices in a bid to regain public support after a spate of scandals and missteps badly hurt his popularity.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who kept his post, announced the new lineup on Thursday. The shakeup, Abe’s fourth since he took office in late 2012, does not seem to have a major impact on the Far East Asian country’s foreign policy or economy.
Many ministers are being renamed or taking up posts they have held before. One of the few exceptions is new liberal-leaning Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who is known for both his willingness to criticize the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and a frankness not typical of Japanese politicians.
Former defense minister Itsunori Onodera was again picked to that post after Tomomi Inada, Abe's protégé, stepped down last week following reports that the ministry had concealed information about risks faced by Japanese peacekeeping troops in volatile South Sudan.
Meanwhile, Seiko Noda, who in 2015 tried to challenge Abe for the party’s leadership, was named internal affairs minister, replacing Sanae Takaichi, another close Abe ally with strongly nationalist views.
Abe, who came to power in the world's third-largest economy in late 2012, was hit by an array of cronyism scandals surfaced in May, which he flatly denies.
“I deeply regret that my shortcomings have invited this situation,” Abe said earlier in the day ahead of the formal announcement of the cabinet revamp.
Apart from the favoritism scandal, Abe also faced another allegation this year of possible involvement in a cut-price land deal, in which an 86 percent discount for a plot of government-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, was offered to its buyer, school operator Moritomo Gakuen, allegedly due to close ties between Abe’s wife and the school.
Abe’s popularity has plummeted because of the damaging scandals. His party has seen its support dive, falling two points to 25 percent in a Mainichi newspaper poll published on July 24.

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