Japan's prime minister appointed a new Cabinet on Friday in an effort to lead the country out of economic crisis and appease an opposition that threatened to boycott his legislative agenda.
The new Cabinet, Naoto Kan's third since taking office last June, aims to push for reforms as Japan faces a string of daunting problems, including a rapidly aging population, growing national debt and an anemic economy.
"Japan is mired in a severe crisis now," Kan told a news conference. "I reshuffled the Cabinet so that it will have maximum strength to overcome the crisis."
Kan has changed the body more often than most prime ministers as he struggled to address the country's problems after personnel issues and a scandal involving a party veteran hampered his ability to persuade the opposition to support his agenda.
The political sparring in parliament delayed the passage of a crucial stimulus package late last year, and Kan hopes Friday's reshuffle will help avoid similar stagnation on the 2011 budget.
Passing the upcoming fiscal year budget "is the first step toward overcoming the crisis," Kan said.
The most notable changes included the appointment of Yukio Edano, the ruling party's acting secretary general, to chief Cabinet secretary, the top government spokesman.
Edano replaces Yoshito Sengoku, whom the opposition demanded be removed following controversial comments, such as calling Japan's defense forces "a violent machine." The party threatened to boycott parliamentary sessions if the change was not made.
"This change comes at a very difficult time for both Japan and our party," Edano said Friday. "Our fate depends on whether we can achieve results."
Another important addition was Kaoru Yosano, an independent fiscal conservative, who became minister for economic and fiscal policy.
Yosano, an independent, held a number of senior government posts under the former Liberal Democratic Party government, and is viewed as someone who could foster consensus across party lines.
He replaces Banri Kaieda, an economist and supporter of free-trade zones, who was shifted to economy and trade minister, reflecting Kan's push to achieve his goal of opening the country by expanding free-trade deals.
Tokyo is considering whether to join a U.S.-backed free-trade zone called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which nine countries are negotiating. Business leaders say Japan must join the TPP or suffer a competitive disadvantage, but farmers are opposed because of worries that cheaper imports would ruin them.
It was unclear if the reshuffle would persuade the opposition to support the government's proposals. Criticism of the new lineup came quickly Friday.
Opposition LDP Secretary General Tadamori Oshima compared the reshuffle to a game of musical chairs, calling the new lineup "the runaround Cabinet with no talent."