Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, under criticism for ramming through controversial tax-reform legislation while his administration was implicated in a stock-trading scandal, reshuffled his Cabinet on Tuesday but retained officials in several key posts.
The shake-up was marked more by continuity than by change. Takeshita kept Sosuke Uno as foreign minister and retained Tatsuo Murayama as finance minister.
Murayama had taken over the finance portfolio Saturday, immediately after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party cleared the last hurdle on tax reform by railroading a package of bills through the upper house of Parliament over the vehement objection of opposition parties.
Stock Scandal Victim
Takeshita had held the post in a caretaker capacity since Kiichi Miyazawa, the leader of a faction within the ruling party, resigned as finance minister Dec. 9 to take responsibility for his involvement in the Recruit stock scandal.
An array of ruling party leaders as well as opposition politicians, government officials and businessmen are accused of unethical behavior in the trading of shares of a real estate developer, Recruit Cosmos Co., before the stock was publicly listed.
Takeshita, whose aide traded in the stock, has so far emerged personally unscathed in the parliamentary and criminal investigations of the scandal. However, the popularity of his Cabinet plummeted along with an erosion in public trust and an aversion to the 3% consumption tax that is the centerpiece of the tax reform.
Although Takeshita reportedly went to great pains to select Cabinet appointees untainted by the Recruit scandal, he left Shintaro Abe as secretary general of the ruling party and Michio Watanabe as chairman of the party's influential policy-affairs research council. Both men were tied to Recruit trading, and both are considered leading candidates to eventually succeed Takeshita as prime minister.
Reshuffling the Cabinet appeared to have far more to do with maintaining the equilibrium among rival factions in the ruling party than with creating a fresh image for the administration.
Although Takeshita's faction is the largest, he can rule only with the support of his rivals and must parcel out Cabinet posts to keep peace within the party. Murayama, the new finance minister, for example, is a senior member of Miyazawa's faction. Other major factions belong to Abe and to former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone.
Among those newly appointed to the Cabinet were Hiroshi Mitsuzaka, who succeeds Hajime Tamura as minister of international trade and industry; Takashi Hasegawa as justice minister; Takeo Nishioka as education minister; Hikosaburo Okonogi as construction minister; Shinji Sato as transportation minister, and Tsutomu Hata as minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
Retaining their posts were Deputy Prime Minister Shin Kanemaru, Chief Cabinet Secretary Keizo Obuchi, Defense Agency chief Kichiro Tazawa and National Land Agency head Hideo Utsumi.
The adjustments in the lineup are not expected to have any impact on Takeshita's foreign or domestic policies. Reshuffling the Cabinet is practically an annual event in the Japanese government as the Liberal Democratic Party, which has held power for more than three decades, rotates jobs among its top parliamentary members.