Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda began a reshuffle of his Cabinet on Friday, a move widely seen as an attempt to restore confidence in his leadership after a series of scandals about missing pension records and alleged bribery. Akihiro Ota, the head of coalition partner New Komei party, emerged from a meeting at the official residence with Fukuda and confirmed that ministers were being picked later in the day. He said he relayed to Fukuda the direction the new Cabinet should take in its policies.
"It's important to make a government that tackles reforms with the goal of improving and encouraging people's lives but remains gentle for the less privileged in society," he said on nationally televised news.
The addition of some fresh faces in the Cabinet is widely seen as an effort to jump-start Fukuda's flagging public support. His overall approval rating fell to about 20 percent in recent months, as top defense officials were arrested on suspicion of bribery and tax evasion.
Allegations have also surfaced of bureaucrats being pampered with alcohol and snacks in taxis whose fares were being paid for by taxpayer money.
In Japan, elderly legislators tend to get picked as ministers. Fukuda, 72, has to balance the need to please heavyweight lawmakers to maintain his party leadership and the need to please the public with fresh faces to send a message of change.
Fukuda also must avoid the mistake of his predecessor Shinzo Abe, who picked several ministers who had to resign because of money scandals. At the time, the public was outraged by ministers' gaffes, including the loss by the government of 50 million people's pension records.
Opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa lambasted the planned Cabinet reshuffle Thursday as a cosmetic change of politicians' faces. "What people really want is a fundamental political change _ a change in policies, something more substantial," he said on public broadcaster NHK TV.
The opposition, which controls the parliamentary upper house, has been challenging the ruling party over the recent scandals and pressing for a snap election. Fukuda's Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan almost continuously for more than half a century, controls the more powerful lower house in a coalition. Fukuda, who took office in September, has not achieved the charismatic popularity of the flamboyant Junichiro Koizumi, the prime minister before Abe. Fukuda has kept a low profile compared to the two former leaders, but has not succeeded in gaining popularity either.