Obvious Lack of Awareness of Heavy Responsibility

Of all the executive secretaries to the prime minister, the one in charge of political affairs is supposed to take on roles with the heaviest responsibility, such as paying attention to all aspects of policy and coordinating with the ruling parties. It must be said that awareness of this responsibility was lacking.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has decided to replace his eldest son Shotaro, executive secretary to the prime minister for political affairs. The reason was that Shotaro invited his relatives and others to the prime minister’s official residence at the end of last year, and held a year-end party in a space for official events at the residence.

According to weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun, which reported the year-end party, more than 10 people, including Shotaro’s relatives, gathered at the event. The magazine carried a photo of the attendees imitating the commemorative photo of cabinet members taken on the red-carpeted steps of the official residence when a cabinet is formed, and another of a man lying down on the red-carpeted steps.

Although the prime minister’s official residence is the living space for the prime minister and his family, it also has an official function, such as hosting foreign guests. It is usually heavily guarded by the police.

Shotaro’s behavior — inviting his relatives and others to such a place to enjoy a year-end party and mess around — cannot escape the criticism of mixing public and private life. His dismissal from the post is not surprising.

In January this year, when Shotaro accompanied his father on a trip to Europe and the United States, his use of Japanese embassies’ official cars to visit places of interest and go shopping was called into question.

At the time, the government said that the purpose of Shotaro’s visits to places of interest was to take photos for public relations purposes and the shopping was to purchase souvenirs from the prime minister for Cabinet members, and that there was nothing inappropriate about Shotaro’s behavior.

Opposition parties have criticized Kishida for “going easy on his own people.”

It is undeniable that Kishida’s attitude of protecting and defending his relatives has led to the various troubles involving his eldest son. In that sense, Kishida’s awareness is also being questioned.

At a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting last week, Kishida stated that there was no problem with his relatives dining together in a private living space at the prime minister’s official residence, and revealed that he himself had shown up at the year-end party and greeted the guests.

Until last week, Kishida had said that he had “severely cautioned” Shotaro, but rejected the idea of removing him from the post. Kishida decided to change course probably because he felt that the public reaction was harsher than expected.

The reason Kishida’s response was so late can only be attributed to his complacency. There seems to be no one close to the prime minister who can advise him to be cautious.

The summit of the Group of Seven advanced nations in Hiroshima City appears to have been a success, but the international situation remains tense. The yen has once again weakened noticeably, and the future of the economy is unclear.

If the prime minister remains complacent amidst the mountain of difficult issues, the foundation of his administration could be shaken. Kishida needs to regain his footing and carry out his policies with a sense of urgency.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 31, 2023)