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Takeshita Reshuffles Cabinet In Effort To Restore Public Confidence

December 27, 1988

TOKYO (AP) _ Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, seeking to erase the shadow of a stock scandal that tainted his government, reshuffled the Cabinet on Tuesday with an aggressive new justice minister at the forefront.

The 20-member Cabinet does not include any politicians linked to the so- called Recruit scandal, which led to the resignation of the finance minister and 16 other influential politicians and business leaders.

The scandal and the passage last week of a tax reform package that includes a 3 percent sales tax have hurt the popularity of Takeshita’s government.

There were changes in four ministries touched by the scandal, even though the ministers themselves were not accused of personal involvement.

Takeshita left in place his foreign minister, his chief Cabinet secretary and two top leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party who are strong contenders to succeed him as prime minister.

The chief secretary, Keizo Obuchi, said the changes were in keeping with Takeshita’s promises to tighten political discipline.

Seen as a key to these efforts is the new justice minister, Takashi Hasegawa, 76, who heads a parliamentary committee on political ethics.

″I am aware that the public is losing confidence in politicians, business leaders and public officials,″ Hasegawa said in a news conference following his appointment. ″It is a serious matter to rectify it. For Japan to be trusted in the international arena, we have to start with establishing a trustworthy political system.″

In the scandal, a number of influential politicans and business leaders profited from bargain purchases of unlisted stock shares that rose sharply in price after their public offering.

While not illegal, the transactions in shares of Recruit-Cosmos, a real estate company, have been viewed as unethical donations.

Apart from the new Justice Ministry appointment, analysts said they expected no significant changes in government policies with the new Cabinet.

Besides Obuchi, others who kept their positions were Foreign Minister Sousuke Uno, Defense Agency Director-General Kichiro Tazawa, and Finance Minister Tatsuo Murayama, who was appointed Saturday.

Murayama replaced Kiichi Miyazawa, who quit to take responsibility for an aide’s involvement in the scandal.

Two contenders to succeed Takeshita retained key party posts - Shintaro Abe as secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Michio Watanabe as party policy chief.

Also keeping his post was Masayoshi Ito, chairman of the party’s Executive Council.

It is customary for prime ministers to rotate senior party members through ministerial posts without changing the power balance among major factions, and the new Cabinet reflects this.

Takeshita’s own faction has six portfolios, while those of Abe, Miyazawa and former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone have four each and that of senior politician Toshio Komoto has two.

″In a word, I have a feeling of stability,″ Takeshita said after announcing the changes. ″I’m looking forward to them all working hard.″

A poll this month by the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun showed the Takeshita administration had only 18 percent support, down from 30 percent when the prime minister took office 13 months ago.

But Tokyo University political scientist Takashi Inoguchi said, ″Takeshita may be on a temporary low, but by next summer he will be shining again.″

Inoguchi suggested that Takeshita can boost his popularity by faring well in a meeting next month with President-elect George Bush and possibly holding a summit Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

″An annual reshuffle of Cabinet posts is a firmly established custom in Japan,″ said Seizaburo Sato, a professor of political science at Tokyo University. ″Takeshita doesn’t want to upset the status quo.″

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