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Japan PM Puts Focus on Economy While Adding Women to Cabinet

(Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida kept his finance and trade ministers in place while adding more women to his cabinet in a reshuffle aimed at freshening his government’s image and moving quickly to economic support measures.

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The premier kept his core economic policy team in the Wednesday revamp, as he looks to introduce new stimulus measures. He told reporters he’d aim to put the steps together next month, with an extra budget to be decided after that.

Price gains continue to outpace wage increases, eating into household spending power and weighing on approval for Kishida’s cabinet. Support crept up by three percentage points to 36% in a poll conducted by NHK between Sept. 8-10, after he expanded and extended subsidies for gasoline.

Read More: Japan’s Households Cut Back Spending as Kishida Mulls Measures

While Kishida need not face a national election until 2025, he could opt to call one sooner, with some analysts expecting the announcement to come as soon as the measures are unveiled. Further falls in popularity could see him struggle to stay on as leader of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party in a vote due a year from now.

“I will introduce bold measures to support the daily lives of the people, including continuing gasoline subsidies,” Kishida told reporters after the reshuffle. Asked about the timing of the next election, he said he’d consider it, but rapid introduction of the economic steps would take precedence.

Kishida retained Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki as well as Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshikazu Matsuno told reporters earlier. He appointed a new minister for economic revitalization, Yoshitaka Shindo, in what could be a pointer to the cabinet’s budgetary stance, according to Takuji Aida, chief economist at Credit Agricole Securities Asia.

Shindo, a former vice minister at METI, replaces a former bureaucrat from the Finance Ministry, known for its fiscal conservatism.

“Rather than reining in spending, this brings efforts to expand the economy through investment to the fore,” Aida said, adding Shindo could work in tandem with the like-minded Nishimura, conveying a positive impression to markets previously held back by Kishida’s reputation for favoring a more austere line.

The premier also appears to have prioritized balancing the interests of the various factions within the LDP, said Tomoya Suzuki, economics researcher at NLI Research Institute. That leaves doubts about how far the reshuffle will help promote his policies, he added.

What Bloomberg Economics Says...

“The upcoming economic measures Kishida wants will focus on dealing with higher living costs...Rising interest rates are a headache for the cabinet so the cost will likely remain on a reasonable scale.”

— Taro Kimura, economist

Among the executives in his ruling party, Kishida kept Toshimitsu Motegi, a potential rival for the party leadership as LDP No. 2. Party policy chief Koichi Hagiuda also remained in his post.

Minoru Kihara, a five-term member of parliament, took over as defense minister for his first cabinet posting.

Previous prime ministers have seen support jump after appointing more women to their cabinets. Kishida’s latest line-up includes five women, equaling a previous record, with the most prominent being former Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa as foreign minister.

Women were also allotted positions covering policy on children, regional revitalization and reconstruction, while Sanae Takaichi retained her seat as minister in charge of economic security.

Eleven ministers are joining the cabinet for the first time, according to public broadcaster NHK. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara, a close aide to Kishida, was replaced by Hideki Murai, a fellow alumnus of the Finance Ministry.

--With assistance from Erica Yokoyama.

(Updates with comment from Kishida in fifth paragraph)

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