Koizumi gives LDP a face-lift

SINGAPORE Sept. 21. The Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, today re-moulded the leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) at its higher echelons by appointing Shinzo Abe, at present Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, as the party's new secretary-general despite his standing as a junior politician.

The LDP is the dominant constituent of Japan's ruling coalition, and Mr. Koizumi won re-election on Saturday as the party's president. Mr. Abe, at the age of 49 years, is seen to be a popular choice, given his image as a no-nonsense negotiator on a range of issues concerning the Cold War era abductions of some Japanese nationals by North Korea. The abductions are a highly emotive issue for the Japanese public. However, Mr. Abe's standing in the party so far has been one of a junior leader.

He was first elected to the Japanese House of Representatives in 1993, whereas both Mr. Koizumi and Taku Yamasaki, a key figure in today's political shake-up in Tokyo, have been re-elected as lawmakers nine times each. Seeking to give the LDP a new face-lift, Mr. Koizumi asserted his renewed authority by making several sweeping changes. Mr. Yamasaki, the LDP secretary-general until today's political changes, would now be Mr. Koizumi's lieutenant as the party's vice-president.

This post has not always been held in much esteem in Japanese politics, but Mr. Yamasaki's equation with Mr. Koizumi is regarded important in the present context. Mr. Yamasaki has held the post of LDP secretary-general since Mr. Koizumi first took charge in April 2001.

This shuffle of the political cards is Mr. Koizumi's answer to those LDP activists who wanted him to remove Mr. Yamasaki from the scene altogether in view of the alleged sex scandals involving him. At another level, the LDP president retained Mitsuo Horiuchi, an elderly politician, as chairman of the party's general council.

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