THE JAPANESE Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi moved quickly yesterday to halt a barrage of criticism over his sudden decision to fire the popular Foreign Minister, Makiko Tanaka, replacing her with another woman and vowing to push ahead with economic reforms.
Putting the embarrassing shake-up of his cabinet to rest quickly is crucial for Mr Koizumi, who must face parliament early next week to make an important policy statement and who is to play host to the President George Bush from 17 to 19 February.
But while he has repeatedly defended his decision to sack Ms Tanaka for feuding with her civil servants, the public support that his administration has relied upon heavily appears to be suffering.
Mr Koizumi named Yoriko Kawaguchi, who was Environment Minister, as Ms Tanaka's replacement yesterday. In sharp contrast to the outspoken and charismatic Ms Tanaka, Ms Kawaguchi has been more of a conservative team player within the Cabinet. Mr Koizumi said: "She is perfect for the job."
She was not, however, his first choice. Sadako Ogata, a highly respected diplomat and former United Nations high commissioner for refugees, turned down the job for personal reasons.
Mr Koizumi has vowed to restore prosperity and has asked voters to endure painful reforms aimed at cleaning up Japanese banks' bad debts and encouraging competition.
His support ratings have remained above 70 per cent despite the stagnant economy, which officially has slipped into its third recession in a decade, with unemployment rising to a record 5.6 per cent in December. …