Kono keeps eye on presidency as he reforms LDP’s public relations

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Taro Kono, chairperson of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Public Relations Headquarters

Taro Kono is swiftly reforming the Liberal Democratic Party’s public relations strategy, using his high profile and experience to promote the LDP to the public while also expanding his own foothold nationwide with an eye on the party’s next presidential election.

As the chairperson of the LDP’s Public Relations Headquarters, Kono has said openly that “the LDP’s ability to convey its message is worse than Komeito and the Japanese Communist Party.” He emphasizes communications from regional areas, and has been using online meetings and in-person visits to teach local assembly members how to effectively use social media.

On Friday, Kono discussed public relations with executives of the Federation of Toyama Prefecture LDP Party Branches in Toyama City. He also visited Okinawa, Saga, Shiga and other prefectures last year and plans to continue his vigorous tour of regional areas in anticipation of the House of Councillors election this summer.

Kono has also been actively posting on his Twitter account, which boasts over 2.4 million followers.

His skill at communications has drawn praise even from opposition party members.

Yuichiro Tamaki of the Democratic Party for the People compared Noriko Horiuchi, the minister in charge of vaccine programs, to Kono in a tweet on Friday, saying, “It’s harsh to make a comparison, but I want her to send out information more frequently.” Kono preceded Horiuchi as the minister responsible for inoculations.

Kono assumed his current post after losing the LDP presidential election last September to current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Some in the party feel that Kono was given the cold shoulder compared with fellow presidential candidates Sanae Takaichi, who was made the LDP’s policy chief, and Seiko Noda, who was appointed minister in charge of the chronically low birthrate.

However, people surrounding Kono are in high spirits, with one saying, “This is the post easiest to utilize for the next [presidential election].”

Kono failed to secure a majority of votes from party members in the election, despite high expectations due to his popularity among them. His public relations trips are also aimed at making himself better known and thereby gaining a foothold in various areas.

Diet members

Kono still has a long way to go regarding Diet members’ votes, which account for half the ballots in a presidential election. Kono has appointed a number of Diet members close to him to the board of directors of the Public Relations Headquarters, but this has been viewed coolly by many in the party as merely promoting friends.

Four of the six LDP factions support Kishida, and the Aso faction that Kono belongs to is the backbone of the Kishida Cabinet.

Some continue to support Kono, especially those who do not belong to any faction. Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who supported Kono in the presidential election, has said, “I haven’t changed my mind.” According to a member of the Aso faction, however, support for Kono will not grow unless he improves his scant communication with other Diet members.