Kishida’s Reshuffled Cabinet: Provide Answers to Policy Issues that Have Been Postponed / Overcome Declining, Aging Population Issues

Although a variety of policy matters have been addressed, for many issues road maps and concrete measures to realize them have been postponed. The reshuffled Cabinet has a mission to provide answers to such issues.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has reshuffled his Cabinet and changed key executive posts in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to launch the new Cabinet. This is the second time Kishida has reshuffled his Cabinet since the general election in November 2021 and the first reshuffle was in August last year. This time the lineup is also geared toward an upcoming House of Representatives election.

To maintain the framework of his administration, Kishida retained Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno and Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki in their posts, while party Vice President Taro Aso and Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi were reappointed. It can be said this is a solid lineup that emphasizes policy continuity and stable handling of the administration.

Highest no. of female ministers

The number of first-time Cabinet members was relatively high at 11. Another notable feature is the increase in the number of female Cabinet members from two before the reshuffle to five, which is tied for the largest number ever.

Kishida retained Sanae Takaichi, minister in charge of economic security, and appointed former Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa as foreign minister. Ayuko Kato, who has been elected to the lower house three times, was picked for minister of state for measures for declining birth rate. Former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi was appointed to chairperson of the party’s Election Strategy Committee.

It has been pointed out that Japan’s gender gap is one of the widest in the world in the political and economic fields.

The government has been urging major corporations to increase the percentage of female executives to 30% or more by 2030. The Cabinet probably aims to emphasize its stance of promoting women.

It can be said that the appointments were made to create a sense of renewal, and to take into consideration the placement of his rivals and the intentions of each faction in anticipation of next year’s LDP presidential election. The appointments show evidence of such a painstaking effort.

At a press conference, Kishida said, “I have appointed ministers with the ability to execute the three policy pillars of economy, society, and diplomacy and security.”

However, the important thing is what this lineup will do in a concrete way and how.

If the government cannot overcome the challenges of a decreasing and aging population, the nation’s strength will decline. It is also important to restore the soundness of the nation’s finances, which are at the worst level among developed countries.

The international situation is becoming increasingly tense. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who also is general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea. If Moscow and Pyongyang strengthen their military cooperation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may become more protracted. There is no doubt that the threat in Asia will increase further.

In addition, China has continued to attempt to unilaterally change the status quo. It is essential to enhance diplomatic and defense capabilities while carefully watching developments in China, Russia and North Korea.

Debate mounting burdens

Kishida will soon have been in office for two years. The policies he has so far put forward can now be said to be timely.

It is noteworthy that he has decided to significantly strengthen defense capabilities in light of the worsening security environment. The release of treated water stored at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the ocean, which has been a longstanding concern, is also a reasonable decision.

On the other hand, it is true that there is a lack of strategy on how to tackle medium- and long-term issues.

Kishida has proclaimed “unprecedented” measures against the low birth rate and has decided to take steps including the removal of income restrictions on child allowances, but how to secure financial resources for an annual budget in the “mid ¥3 trillion range” to fund various child-related measures has not been decided.

In the first place, is it possible to reverse the record low number of births simply by expanding allowances? It is necessary to carefully identify the reasons why young people are hesitant to get married or have children and take comprehensive measures for that purpose.

The substance of Kishida’s signature policy of “new form of capitalism” is still not clear. It is necessary to concretely rethink economic policies to achieve sustainable wage increases.

Whether the government will be able to settle issues that have been postponed, including measures to secure financial resources to increase defense spending, will determine how his government is evaluated in the future.

Lower house members will reach the halfway point of their four-year term at the end of October this year. Kishida’s term as LDP president will expire at the end of September next year. Many believe that he will dissolve the lower house before then.

Repair relations with Komeito

However, the government’s footing appears to be fragile.

The Cabinet’s approval ratings have slumped due to the continuing troubles surrounding the My Number identification cards. The decision to abolish health insurance certificates in autumn next year without sufficient explanation may also be having an impact.

Relations between the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito are also strained. Although they finally agreed this month to revive their election campaign cooperation in Tokyo constituencies, the trust between the two coalitions has been shaken. The ability of the two parties’ executives to coordinate remains questionable.

There is also an urgent need to eliminate complacency within the LDP. Last year saw a spate of Cabinet ministers resigning mainly due to politics and money problems and gaffes they committed. Recently, a lower house member who belonged to the LDP was arrested in a corruption case involving offshore wind power generation projects.

Kishida must tighten up his party.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 14, 2023)