Former PM Abe: Prime Minister Kishida should handle personnel matters as he sees fit

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was then the chairperson of the policy research council of the Liberal Democratic Party, attend a ceremony in the Diet building in Tokyo in June launching the parliamentarian association for creating a new type of capitalism.

The year 2022 will test Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. How should he deal with the pandemic, foreign affairs, the economy and other issues? This is the second installment in a series of articles on how authoritative figures in various fields view such topics. The first installment was excerpted from remarks by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a Yomiuri Shimbun interview. This installment contains more of Abe’s comments.

Stable government

About three months have passed since the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was inaugurated. For the LDP, the first task Kishida was entrusted with as party president was to win the House of Representatives election last October.

Although the situation was harsh, our party won 261 seats in the lower house. This can be considered a landslide victory. I hope Prime Minister Kishida will build a stable administration.

Some have the view that relations between the prime minister and me have been cool, citing such reasons as personnel affairs not being handled as I had wished. But that is not correct.

It is a fact that I have been consulted by the prime minister on personnel matters. I have repeatedly told him: “Please decide by yourself. I didn’t seek advice from anyone when I was a prime minister.” A leader has to exercise his rights in personnel affairs as he sees fit.

In choosing a new foreign minister, following [previous Foreign Minister] Toshimitsu Motegi’s appointment as secretary general of the party, it is said that I was wary of having Yoshimasa Hayashi, who was elected from Yamaguchi Prefecture like I was, appointed to that post. Honestly speaking, I haven’t opposed his appointment as foreign minister.

Hopes for ending deflation

Kishida has advocated a “new form of capitalism” as a new economic policy. However, concrete measures have not yet come into sight. Its content will come under scrutiny in the future.

I have given a talk on “Capitalism in the Land of Vigorous Rice Plants” at various speaking events. Its content is that we should aim at realizing market-oriented economy, in which we earn genuine wealth while setting a high value on morals and not being driven by greed. During the long period of LDP-led administrations, we have built a generous social security system based on such a way of thinking, and have moved ahead with policies of distributing wealth broadly.

The most important economic role to be played by politics is to create and protect jobs. I have put my heart and soul into that purpose. This proposition ought not to change under the Kishida administration, either. I am paying attention to what sort of flavor Kishida would give to the existing policies.

In what was sometimes called “government-led spring labor negotiations,” the Abe administration paid particular attention to wage hikes. The Kishida administration, too, is trying to improve preferential tax treatment for companies that have raised wages. While such efforts will incentivize wage hikes to some extent, wages won’t increase easily unless the labor market becomes tight, as an economic principle suggests.

I hope his administration will mobilize all sorts of policy measures, such as monetary easing and fiscal spending, to increase demand, with the aim of pulling the national economy out of deflation.

Praiseworthy action on virus

In measures to cope with the novel coronavirus, the Kishida administration has made decisions, in rapid succession, on measures such as bringing forward the third round of vaccinations against the virus. Such moves should be rated highly.

How about going further this year, and changing the legal classification of the novel coronavirus?

The novel coronavirus is tentatively classified as a “Category II Infectious Disease” under the Infectious Diseases Law. This category indicates the second-highest degree of danger. Those infected with the virus are to be treated at hospitals, in principle, putting great burdens on medical institutions and public health centers.

The mechanisms of infection with the novel coronavirus have been gradually elucidated, while an oral antiviral drug for COVID-19 was approved [by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry] late last year.

We need to keep our guard up against the omicron variant. But, if we can prevent infected patients from becoming seriously ill with drugs and vaccines, there is an option of classifying the novel coronavirus into “Category V,” the same as seasonal influenza.

[“Category V” diseases, including measles and whooping cough, are ones whose degree of danger is ranked lowest in the five categories.]

In the Diet, I hope that progress will be made in discussions on amending the Constitution. Precisely because this is the time of Prime Minister Kishida, who came from the LDP’s Kochikai faction, which takes a softer line, debate may move forward significantly.

As for myself, my physical condition has improved considerably. But as my treatment continues, I have not recovered fully. I have often been asked about the possibility of taking office for a third time. But if I said, “I will try one more time,” everyone would probably be petrified. I haven’t thought about it.