Japan's prime minister to reshuffle cabinet, expected to hint at successor

Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was to announce a new Cabinet Monday, a move widely expected to signal his choices for a successor after his term ends next September.

The reshuffle was expected Monday afternoon, following Parliament's approval earlier this month of Koizumi's pet project to privatize the postal agency.

Media reports have speculated that the prime minister will put potential successors into prominent positions. Despite his popularity, Koizumi says he will step down when his term ends next September.

Considered likely successor candidates are Home Affairs Minister Taro Aso, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda and LDP deputy secretary-general Shinzo Abe.

"No matter what post I may get, I want to help the prime minister push through his reform programs," Abe told a group of reporters. "I want to do all my best whether I get a post in the Cabinet or in the party."

Koizumi was to name senior officials of his Liberal Democratic Party ahead of the reshuffle.

Reports also speculated that two of the Cabinet's incumbents will likely remain in their posts: Economic Minister Heizo Takenaka, a key architect of Koizumi's structural reform agenda, and Transport Minister Kazuo Kitagawa, who has the backing of the coalition's junior partner New Komei Party.

Takebe Tsutomu, the LDP's secretary-general, said the reshuffle was in Koizumi's hands.

"He may have a surprise up his sleeve. Nobody knows," Takebe told reporters Sunday.

The LDP won a landslide victory in Sept. 11 elections for the powerful lower house of Parliament, winning over two-thirds of the seats with its junior coalition partner, the New Komei Party.

The governing party is expected to use the overwhelming majority to push through further reforms, including steps toward amending Japan's pacifist constitution, AP reported. V.A.

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