Fumio Kishida: Can the new Japanese Prime Minister bring calm to the country?

By Daniel Ben-David

THE Japanese general election at the end of October was a key test for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its newly appointed Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Kishida’s manifesto policies had hewed towards the party’s traditional right-wing.

Some pledges include tax breaks for corporations willing to raise wages, wealth redistribution, and increased investment in science and technology.

One of the most notable pledges was to revisit Article 9 of the Japanese constitution – which renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation and the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

Additional promises were made to increase Japan’s defence budget to above two percent of gross domestic product and to enhance the country’s defence capabilities.

Over 57 million Japanese citizens voted in what was seen by many observers as an era-defining election.

As the main centre-left opposition party against the LDP, the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) merged with the Democratic Party for the People (DPP) and the Social Democratic Party, which threatened to put an end to the LDP’s nine-year reign.

Despite the threat of a consolidating opposition, the LDP under Fumio Kishida retained their single-party majority despite losing 23 seats in the 465-seat House of Representatives.

The opposition coalition led by the CDP failed to increase its seat share despite having policies that polled favourably such as the phasing out of nuclear energy in Japan and diplomatic pacifism.

In what many saw as the big winners of the election, the Japan Innovation Party (Nippon Ishin no Kai) a conservative right-wing populist party quadrupled its seats to 41, becoming the third-largest party in the chamber and further threatening Japan’s pacifist constitution.

The election followed a tumultuous political period in a country that, as polls show, overwhelmingly favours steadiness and stability.

Fumio Kishida’s predecessor, former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, announced he would not seek re-election in September this year after just 13 months in office due to widespread criticism of his handling of Covid-19 and his insistence on holding the Olympic Games in Tokyo despite rising cases.

Before Suga’s cabinet, Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving Prime Minister in Japanese history, who he himself saw falling approval ratings due to favouritism scandals, suddenly resigned the premiership due to ill health.

The LDP has been in power almost continuously since its foundation in 1955 with exceptions between 1993 and 1994, and again from 2009 to 2012 when Abe regained a majority.

Prime Minister Kishida’s immediate task will be to regain the trust of voters and to shore up support for a party that was seen as splintered and in danger following Suga’s brief and unpopular premiership.

Following the election, he has stressed his determination to address voters’ concerns over party corruption and cronyism as the world’s third-largest economy struggles to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of his ‘new capitalism’ approach, his cabinet has also promised to address wealth inequality in the country, which had been exasperated because of the pandemic.

But it is not just domestic issues that may prove challenging to Kishida’s premiership.

The LDP has always espoused close cooperation with the United States in foreign and defence policies.

Discussion over amendments to Japan’s defence spending has reflected the United States’ concerns over a more assertive China.

Japanese historian and contemporary scholar Jiang Leng Woo said: “The LDP’s manifesto pledges show there is serious concern over Japan’s neighbours and over being dragged into war against China alongside the US over Taiwan, the sovereignty of which Japan has promised to defend.”

Potential danger also comes from North Korea, with Kim Jong-un labelling former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe an “imbecile” and “political dwarf” in 2019 and threatening Japan with a ballistic missile “in the not distant future.”

Woo said: “The ever-present nervous disposition associated with having North Korea as a neighbour is a feeling that Kishida is likely to become all too familiar with.”

But the first step towards bringing calm to a country that favours stability after a rocky two years has been taken through securing a majority government.

How Prime Minister Kishida’s cabinet will deal with lingering concerns and inevitable challenges in the future is yet to be seen.

Featured Image: 切干大根 @WikimediaCommons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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