October 6, 2015 / 7:44 AM / 2 years ago

Japan's PM Abe to seek to play it safe in cabinet shake-up

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, October 6, 2015. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

TOKYO (Reuters) - “Once burnt, twice shy” could well sum up Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attitude as he readies a cabinet to be unveiled on Wednesday, a year after a shake-up that ended in tears.

Dozens of veteran lawmakers in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are keen for posts when Abe, elected to another three-year term as party chief last month, reshuffles his cabinet, but the premier has signaled that many will be disappointed.

Abe’s attempt to bolster his ratings with a big shake-up that included putting five women in his cabinet in September 2014 backfired when two of the women quickly had to resign over funding scandals.

The trade minister then came under fire when it emerged a support group had spent money at a racy bar while the defense minister was replaced a few months later following allegations, which he denied, of improper political funds use.

Abe is expected to keep about half the current 18 cabinet members including close allies Chief Cabinet Minister Yoshihide Suga, Economy Minister Akira Amari and Finance Minster Taro Aso.

“He is saying that there won’t be a change in the ‘backbone’ of the cabinet,” a government source familiar with Abe’s thinking told Reuters. “But ... it’s necessary to motivate people. I think he will add a few fresh faces.”

Abe will create a post in charge of his new goal of building a “Society in Which All 100 million People can be Active” - a slogan meant to express determination that no one will be left behind in Japan’s economic growth.

Some media have speculated Abe, seeking to boost his ratings, could hand posts to Shinjiro Koizumi, 34, the popular son of ex-premier Junichiro Koizumi, or Taro Kono, 52, a maverick known for criticizing LDP policies.

Abe, whose popularity was dented by passage of divisive laws easing pacifist constraints on the military and whose coalition faces a national election next year, has unveiled three new policy “arrows” that aides say subsume an original trio of hyper-easy monetary policy, public spending and reform.

The three targets are to expand the economy by one-fifth to 600 trillion yen ($5 trillion), raise the rock-bottom fertility rate and reform creaking social welfare systems.

“He wanted to quickly send the message that he will focus on the economy after passing the security bills,” the government source said. “Actually, he’s not saying anything all that new.”( $1 = 120 yen)

Additional reporting by Yuko Yoshikawa; Editing by Nick Macfie

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