Japan PM Fumio Kishida Seeks to Unite LDP Ahead of Elections

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a Liberal Democratic Party convention in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Sunday.

Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic Party President Fumio Kishida called for party unity at an LDP convention Sunday, to help the LDP triumph in the nationwide local elections and five Diet by-elections expected to be held in April.

Although the approval rating for the Kishida Cabinet shows signs of bottoming out, sources of intra-party conflict are still smoldering and there are no dramatic measures to buoy up the administration in sight.

‘Pep rally’

“Let’s unite and resolve to win out in the upcoming nationwide local elections, without fail,” Kishida said in his speech, drawing applause from LDP local assembly members gathered from across the country.

“The past 10 years have been a ‘decade of progress,’ a time when we joined forces to restore Japan’s pride, confidence and vitality, which were lost under the administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan,” the prime minister said, referring to the LDP’s return to power in 2012.

His words were a slap at the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, a successor to the DPJ, which calls the period from 2012 a “lost decade.” It is unusual for Kishida to speak disparagingly about an opposition party — he was apparently aiming to boost spirits within his party.

The LDP positioned the convention as a “general pep rally ahead of the nationwide local elections,” in the words of Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, and has refrained from any showy presentations, such as inviting celebrity guests.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of ruling coalition partner Komeito, said, “We should solidify our foundation, with the LDP and Komeito joining hands.”

Approval rating

Kishida hopes to win the nationwide local elections and supplementary national elections to stabilize the management of his administration. In a Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted earlier this month, the Kishida Cabinet’s approval rating recovered to the 40% level for the first time in four months.

However, the approval rating has been below the disapproval rating since last October.

Criticism of Kishida does not appear to be growing within the party, but the LDP does lack unity. There have been disagreements, for example, about measures to cope with the country’s declining birthrate. Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato and others have openly expressed caution over the removal of income limits for child allowances, an idea promoted by Motegi.

Several issues that have met with persistent opposition from lawmakers close to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will need to be dealt with after the local elections. These include devising specific ways to raise taxes to strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities and a bill to promote greater awareness among the public of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Kishida included the achievements made by Abe and former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in his speech at the convention. “We will take a new step forward based on the foundation of their achievements,” Kishida said, showing his consideration for the Abe faction and non-mainstream groups.

Winning over DPFP

The LDP has also been frustrated in its efforts to win over the Democratic Party for the People, to strengthen the base of the administration.

It tried to bring the DPFP to its side regarding the fiscal 2023 budget — holding policy talks among the LDP, Komeito, and the DPFP — but the DPFP decided to oppose the proposed budget.

DPFP leader Yuichiro Tamaki said Kishida’s response to interpellations in the Diet over Tamaki’s strong desire to lower electricity rates was “inadequate.” A senior LDP official expressed discontent that the prime minister’s cautious stance on the matter was hindering efforts to work with the DPFP.

The 2023 campaign policy adopted by the party at the convention clearly states that the LDP will “strengthen the cooperation” with the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) and other friendly labor unions.

However, there is still strong opposition to cooperating with the government and ruling parties within the industrial unions that support the DPFP. Behind-the-scenes coordination with labor unions has stalled — among other things, a proposal for Rengo President Tomoko Yoshino to attend the LDP’s convention was scrapped.