Fukuda to reorganise government

Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda will reshuffle his cabinet Friday, largely in response to his low 25% approval rating. His cabinet has remained largely unchanged from that of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe.


Unpopular Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda will revamp his cabinet on Friday in a bid to boost the low popularity ratings that threaten his hold on power, Japanese media reported.


But a reshuffle may leave key questions unanswered, including the timing of Japan's next general election and the course of policy as the global credit crisis hits the economy.


Fukuda's ratings are languishing at around 25 percent, helped only slightly by a Group of Eight summit in northern Japan this month, where he had hoped his performance would soothe doubts about his leadership skills.


TV Asahi reported on Thursday that Fukuda had decided to reshuffle the cabinet on Friday, ending weeks of speculation over whether and when he would take the plunge. NHK public TV said he would revamp the lineup "within the week".


Fukuda acknowledged frustrations among voters over his leadership, but vowed to fight on with reforms.


"Some of you may feel I have not done anything visibly flashy or that my efforts up until now have been by far insufficient," he wrote in his weekly e-mail magazine on Thursday.


"From now, I will focus on the prompt and clear 'implementation' of policies that we have worked on."


Fukuda was to meet with his coalition partner Akihiro Ota, the head of the New Komeito party on Friday, a senior ruling party official told reporters.


It is unclear how drastically Fukuda will alter his cabinet, which he largely inherited from his predecessor Shinzo Abe, who quit abruptly last September amid falling ratings.


Equally murky is whether Fukuda can set much-needed direction for steering the world's second-biggest economy at a time when high commodity prices and shrinking exports have many warning Japan's economy faces a downturn.




The ruling party is split on how to balance growth with pressure to rein in the country's bulging public debt, and Fukuda may want to leave policies vague before an election for parliament's lower house due by September 2009.


A cabinet revamp may also do little to clarify uncertainties over the timing of the next general election, which would be the first nationwide poll since the ruling party lost control of parliament's upper house in a disastrous vote a year ago.


A feisty main opposition Democratic party, which together with smaller allies controls the upper house, has made no secret of its desire for an early poll in hopes of ousting the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party.


Speculation is simmering that Fukuda could go to the polls in February to seek a mandate to break a political deadlock born of the divided parliament.


Other scenarios floated have the ruling bloc ousting the unpopular Fukuda later this year and his successor calling an election in December or January, or Fukuda waiting until after the 2009/10 national budget is enacted in March 2009.


Under Fukuda, policies have stalled in parliament, where the opposition can delay legislation and reject key appointments.


The ruling bloc's two-thirds lower house majority allows it to override most upper house vetoes, but the process is time-consuming and in the past has upset voters not used to such confrontational tactics.


In a bid to boost his appeal, media said Fukuda might appoint more women to a new cabinet, although analysts doubt whether new faces would raise his ratings.


Among the names being floated are former cabinet minister Seiko Noda, once tipped as a potential first female prime minister, and Yuko Obuchi, the 34-year-old daughter of the late prime minister Keizo Obuchi.


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