Kishida must clarify policies, build a stable administration / Communication and action required

Expectations of steadiness and a sense of stability may have brought about victory in a close race. It is hoped that the new president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will demonstrate leadership and steadily implement policies.

In the LDP presidential election, former party Policy Research Council Chairperson Fumio Kishida was elected the new leader after defeating three other candidates, including Taro Kono, state minister in charge of administrative and regulatory reform.

Kishida is expected to be appointed as the 100th prime minister at an extraordinary Diet session to be convened on Oct. 4 and then to launch a new administration.

With the novel coronavirus pandemic moving out of a crisis situation, Japanese society now enters a phase of taking the next step. As the top leader of the national government, Kishida will be required to steer the country with a sense of serious purpose.

Make swift decisions

At a press conference, Kishida said: “I will listen to the people’s voices and work out solutions one by one. I want to restore the sense of unity among the people through polite and tolerant politics.”

The government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was slow, and the public became increasingly disappointed with politics. Kishida’s emphasis on the ability to listen apparently comes from reflecting on the administrations of the two most recent prime ministers, Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, which have been criticized for offering insufficient explanations, while making policy decisions at the initiative of the Prime Minister’s Office.

It is important to make immediate decisions when needed and to promote policies with a sense of speed, while also listening to a wide range of opinions from the public.

The party presidential election was a close contest. In the first round of voting, Kishida came out on top, ahead of Kono by one vote, but fell short of a majority. In the runoff between the top two candidates, Kishida won the race with more votes from party Diet members.

The backdrop of the close contest may be that many LDP factions decided not to have their members vote as a bloc and let Diet members cast ballots at their own discretion. It is noteworthy that as the LDP’s factions have loosened their grip on members, policy debates intensified.

In the runoff election, however, the strong influence exercised by powerful persons in the party, and maneuvering by factions, were noticeable. For example, Abe and many of other members of the Hosoda faction led by Hiroyuki Hosoda, who supported former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi in the first round of voting, backed Kishida in the runoff.

Kono attracted attention as the potential “face” of the party for elections. However, he has set policy goals partly similar to those of opposition parties, such as abolishing nuclear power plants and introducing a minimum guaranteed pension, and that heightened a sense of caution against him.

Lower house election

Kishida, offering a sense of stability, may have risen in the leadership race due to Kono losing momentum. In light of the fact that Kishida let Kono take the lead in votes among rank-and-file party members, Kishida needs to improve his ability to communicate his message to the public.

The first test for Kishida will be the House of Representatives election.

Kishida is widely expected to make a policy speech and answer questions from other party leaders as the new prime minister in the Diet, dissolving the lower house in mid-October and holding the lower house election in November.

Abe won six national elections in a row and established a long-term administration lasting nearly eight years. It will be crucial to see whether the LDP and its ruling coalition partner Komeito will be able to maintain a stable political foundation under Kishida.

It is essential for the new administration to draw up concrete policies and clarify a path toward realizing them. All the policies debated in the party presidential election were nothing more than ideals and goals, with their details and how to implement them left unclear.

The focus is on a strategy to strike a balance between measures against the infectious disease and economic revitalization.

The key is to encourage people in younger generations to get vaccinated and develop new initiatives such as issuing certificates to show proof of vaccinations. It is also vital to strengthen a system to flexibly secure hospital beds for coronavirus patients so that medical services do not become stretched.

In his economic policies, Kishida has called for a shift away from neo-liberalism, which places importance on competition in the market, and for an enhancement in the functions of income redistribution to correct disparities.

Kishida has proposed raising incomes for nurses and certified childcare workers, but it is not easy to raise wages at other private companies. It is important for him not only to present his policies but also to compile comprehensive measures for achieving them as soon as possible.

China has repeatedly acted in a hegemonic manner, while North Korea has repeatedly launched missiles. Foreign and security issues are piling up.

There is an urgent need to actively promote summit diplomacy and strengthen ties with other countries, including the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.

Party reform challenge

It is important to appoint talented people to the new Cabinet and party leadership posts, instead of focusing on a factional balance. To handle many issues, a strong and stable administration should be established to deal with them quickly.

Kishida has come out with party reform measures such as limiting holders of party executive posts to one year per term with up to three consecutive terms, and actively promoting younger members. It is desirable to restore the vitality of the party through highly transparent management.

Regarding a four-point proposal drafted by the LDP in 2018 to revise the Constitution, including Article 9, Kishida said he will “aim to revise [the Constitution] during my term as LDP president.”

Kishida needs to persistently urge opposition parties to hold a broad debate on constitutional revision at the Diet.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 30, 2021.