Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu revamped his Cabinet on Saturday, resisting pressure from party leaders to give posts to some powerful but scandal-tainted politicians.
Kaifu also jettisoned his justice minister, who had drawn fire for insulting American blacks. However, the minister was given another important post.Both the minister of international trade and industry and the agriculture minister were replaced, a move that could affect some trade negotiations with the United States and other countries.
Yet no major policy changes were expected from the reshuffle, in which 17 new members were named to the 21-member Cabinet.
Officials of the governing Liberal Democratic Party said the administration was concerned with maintaining a unified front in the face of the Persian Gulf crisis and friction over international trade. Also, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is scheduled to visit in April.
The annual rotation of Cabinet posts has become a party tradition because lawmakers expect to assume a ministerial position after serving five or six terms in Parliament.
Kaifu succeeded in keeping his three principal Cabinet members: Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama, Finance Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Chief Cabinet Secretary Misoji Sakamoto, the principal government spokesman.
None of those named to the Cabinet was linked to last year's Recruit influence-peddling scandal. Kaifu was named prime minister mainly because his "clean" image positioned him as a compromise replacement for those affected by the scandal.
Analysts said Kaifu would have lost any remaining credibility had he opened his Cabinet to senior politicians tainted by the affair, in which the Recruit job-placement conglomerate had offered lucrative unlisted stock to influential politicians.
Underscoring the effort to distance the government from the scandal, the new Cabinet member agreed to refrain from stock transactions while in office, Kyodo News Service reported.
The departing justice minister, Seiroku Kajiyama, again apologized for remarks made this fall in which he compared U.S. blacks to prostitutes.
"I feel relieved now that I quit my post," Kajiyama told reporters. However, he was appointed chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party's legislative affairs committee, an important position.
Kajiyama was replaced by Megumu Sato, 66, who like Nakao and Kondo is a member of one of the party's three most powerful factions.
The new international trade minister is Eiichi Nakao, 60, an eight-term lawmaker who formerly served as director-general of the Economic Planning Agency. He replaced Kabun Muto.
The new agriculture minister is Motoji Kondo, 60, a five-term lawmaker in his first cabinet post, replacing Tomio Yamamoto.