Japan's premier today reshuffled his cabinet just four months into the job in a bid to rescue his plans to raise sales tax and dig the country out from under its mountain of debt.
Yoshihiko Noda used a round of ministerial musical chairs to rid himself of two under-fire colleagues whose presence had threatened to scupper his legislative programme and sink plans to hike consumption tax. He also brought in a political heavyweight to help drive through the unpopular tax rise, which analysts of all stripes agree is needed if Japan is to get to grips with its huge debt, which stands at around 200 per cent of GDP.
All cabinet ministers present at a morning meeting handed in a letter of resignation, but in a piece of political theatre, most were returned unopened. Five were replaced, it was later learned, chief among them were Defence Minister Yasuo Ichikawa and Consumer Affairs Minister Kenji Yamaoka, both of whom have been censured by the opposition-controlled upper house of parliament.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a press conference Katsuya Okada, a former party chief, had been brought in as deputy prime minister, a position that previously did not exist, with responsibility for -- among other things -- reform of the social security and tax systems.
Okada, 58, is a former foreign minister, a former DPJ leader and one-time trade ministry technocrat known for his deep policy knowledge and strait-laced "Mr Clean" image.
His political experience is widely believed to be vital if the administration is to garner the cross-party support it needs for tax reform legislation. Ichikawa's successor as defence chief is Naoki Tanaka, 71, husband of former foreign minister Makiko Tanaka and son-in-law of late premier Kakuei Tanaka.
Fujimura said the new education minister will be Hirofumi Hirano while the new justice head will be upper house politician Toshio Ogawa.
Jin Matsubara is the new consumer affairs minister. Heavyweight posts including foreign minister and finance minister were unchanged.