Charting a Course / Kishida’s real battle begins after LDP squeaks by to hold controlling majority

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

With the general election results finalized, this series explores where the country’s politics go from here.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke in a hoarse voice during a press conference Monday.

“We’ve received much criticism. We have to take that seriously,” the Liberal Democratic Party president said a day after the general election. “I want to learn from the experience so that I can do better in national politics and in the next election.”

Although the LDP secured 261 seats in the House of Representatives, the exact number needed to keep its controlling majority, Kishida had a stern look on his face.

“It was a very narrow victory,” a senior LDP official said.

Since a group of opposition parties arranged to field a single candidate in most constituencies, the election was closely contested. LDP candidates won by a margin of less than 5,000 votes in 17 constituencies and by a margin of less than 10,000 votes in 34 other constituencies. As such, the overall result could have been completely different.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), which kept its distance from the group of opposition parties that cooperated to field candidates, made a big leap in gaining seats. It is obvious that voters who are fed up with the unchallenged dominance of the LDP and the arrogance of its long-lasting administration favored Ishin as a third option.

A fresh coalition agreement that Kishida and Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi signed Monday includes a new expression: “We learned about the will of the people through the election and we will keep it firmly in mind.” This expression was added at the request of the LDP.

While the coalition parties’ secretaries general were scheduled to join the meeting of party leaders, their attendance was hastily canceled because LDP Secretary General Akira Amari lost in his single-seat constituency and offered to resign from the post. Since there had been strong criticism in the first place over Kishida’s appointment of Amari, who has been involved in a political funds scandal, the latest turn of events will certainly deal a blow to Kishida’s administration.

Kishida tapped Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, acting chair of the LDP’s Takeshita faction, to replace Amari. Motegi is close to former Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Taro Aso, who is the LDP vice president. The appointment of Motegi is intended to gain support from the Hosoda faction Abe belongs to and wields influence in, as well as from the Aso and Takeshita factions so that Kishida will be able to stably manage the party after the general election. Some point out, however, that if Abe and Aso’s presence increases, Kishida will have less freedom in handling the government.

The House of Councillors election is slated for next summer. Different from the lower house election where voters are de facto choosing their government, it is easier for voters to send a warning to ruling politicians in the upper house vote, according to a former cabinet minister. In the 2019 upper house election, opposition parties arranged to field a single candidate in all 32 single-seat electoral districts contested. If the ruling bloc loses 15 or more seats in the next upper house election, they will lose the majority in the upper house, resulting in a divided Diet in which the LDP-Komeito coalition controls the lower house and the opposition camp controls the upper house.

“With the election battle over, the government is ready for the battle to realize its policies,” Kishida said during the press conference.

It has been a month since Kishida took office. Now, the real battle begins.