Kishida shows mettle as relief bill passes

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Members of the House of Councillors stand to approve a bill designed to remedy and prevent damage from large donations on Saturday afternoon.

The extraordinary session of the Diet that came to a close Saturday was shaken by the resignations of three Cabinet ministers, an unusual development that had sent Prime Minister Fumio Kishida into a predicament.

Yet, in the final phase of the session, Kishida managed to get through his plights by wielding his leadership to swiftly pass into law the bill designed to remedy and prevent damage from large donations to corporations or organizations.

“If we had not passed this bill, the administration would have been in real danger,” a high-ranking government official said with a sense of relief. “The prime minister’s judgment was superb.”

For Kishida, the just-ended extraordinary Diet session was a succession of ordeals.

On Oct. 24, Daishiro Yamagiwa, who was then the economic revitalization minister, resigned after his ties to the Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, came to light time and again. The just-passed bill was created due to issues with the Unification Church and large donations.

Soon after Yamagiwa was forced out, Yasuhiro Hanashi, the then justice minister who made an inappropriate remark on the death penalty, and Minoru Terada, the then internal affairs and communications minister who was implicated in a money-and-politics scandal, resigned from Kishida’s Cabinet. This was a rare “domino phenomenon” in which three ministers resigned in less than a month.

The prime minister was criticized even within his Liberal Democratic Party for the “lack of crisis management skills” as the pattern was seen as Kishida repeatedly relenting to pressure by opposition parties to dismiss the ministers.

The lack of coordination between the government and the LDP was also conspicuous. The schedule of Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki’s visit to the United States was not shared, creating a hiatus in the Diet proceedings in early October.

The government and ruling parties had initially planned to put off the just-passed bill until the Diet session slated to start early next year. Kishida said on Oct. 18, however, “We are making preparations for it with the current Diet session in mind.”

Although opinions within some corners of the government and the ruling coalition, such as calls for careful discussions, arose against doing so, Kishida overrode the objections.

Even before the Cabinet approved the bill, the ruling coalition held talks about it with opposition parties, such as the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), to have their opinions reflected in the legislation.

There have been cases of cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties, such as over the financial reconstruction law, enacted in 1998, in which the government and the LDP almost accepted the counterproposals of opposition parties as is, and a law related to the comprehensive reform of the social security and tax systems enacted in 2012, which focused on raising the consumption tax rate. But these precedents are few.

Despite the bill’s passage, Kishida’s administration remains in a difficult situation. The government and ruling coalition are expected to engage in a debate over measures to secure financial resources for envisaged increases in defense spending. Issues also linger regarding the Cabinet, such as with Kenya Akiba, the reconstruction minister who is facing allegations of violating the Public Offices Election Law. Kishida will inevitably be quizzed by the opposition parties during the Diet session to be convened in January.