Kishida Avoids ‘Gamble’ on Lower House Dissolution

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Thursday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has decided not to dissolve the House of Representatives during the current Diet session, apparently deeming it more prudent to keep it as his “last resort” amid weakening momentum for his Cabinet, which has seen its approval rating decline.

A final decisive factor behind forgoing the dissolution was the prospect of passing a bill to secure financial resources for increased defense spending — a priority for the government. The bill in fact passed on Friday.

In a phone conversation shortly before announcing his decision on Thursday evening, Kishida reportedly told an LDP executive who is a House of Councillors member, “As the bill is now set [to be approved], I decided that there is no need to dissolve [the lower house].”

The prime minister had told those around him that the dissolution would be an option if the opposition parties were to interfere with the execution of his policy measures.

But in public, Kishida had always said of the dissolution, “I’m not thinking about it.” However, he had recently changed his tone, saying at a press conference on Tuesday: “With the end of the current Diet session approaching, various moves can be expected. I want to assess the situation carefully.”

According to a source close to the prime minister, such remarks hinting at a lower house dissolution were aimed to put pressure on the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan as it was difficult to anticipate the main opposition party’s moves, including when it would submit a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet.

Cooling heat

The approval rating for Kishida’s Cabinet rose after the Group of Seven summit in May, and the Japanese economy began showing upbeat signs. In light of this, Kishida started to explore the possibility of dissolving the lower house before the end of the current Diet session.

The CDPJ and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) were lagging behind in preparations to field candidates in a possible snap election, even though Ishin had made dramatic gains in unified local elections in April. Some LDP members therefore favored going on the offensive. Kishida was also well aware of the opposition bloc’s lack of preparations for the election, while feeling anxious that such an advantage could be lost if the election were put off.

However, Kishida’s son, Shotaro, who was serving as secretary to the prime minister in charge of political affairs, came under fire following media reports that he had held a year-end party at the prime minister’s official residence. A series of problems related to My Number identification cards also hit the government, which had promoted the rapid spread of the cards. In a recent Jiji Press survey, the Cabinet’s approval rating was 35.1%, down 3.1 percentage points from the previous month, showing a clear downward trend.

Among LDP executives, Vice President Taro Aso and Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi has shared the view that there was no need to rush into a snap election. The LDP and its ruling coalition partner Komeito have had difficulty coordinating their electoral districts, leading the two parties to end their campaign cooperation in Tokyo. In light of that situation, some LDP members believe their party could lose a considerable number of seats if a snap election were to take place too soon.

Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi has warned against dissolving the lower house for a snap election. “A considerable number of [LDP] seats have been won through the election cooperation with Komeito. The LDP has already lost the base it needs to win a majority of seats by itself,” Yamaguchi said on a radio program on Wednesday.

LDP presidential term in sight

Kishida’s term as LDP president will expire at the end of September 2024, and his right to dissolve the lower house as the prime minister is also a weapon for maintaining his unifying force within the LDP. For Kishida, who aims to be reelected easily as LDP president on the strength of a victory in a snap election, the dissolution of the lower house would have been a big gamble with more than a year to go before the LDP leadership race.

If the LDP were to lose seats in a snap election and it became difficult for Kishida to dissolve the lower house again for some time, he would be unlikely to regain his force within the party. It was also seen as difficult to explain to the people the cause for seeking a public mandate in a snap election. The situation gradually led the prime minister to decide not to dissolve the lower house.

Until the last minute, however, Kishida was concerned about the fate of the bill to secure financial resources, which is the key to realizing the strengthening of the nation’s defense capabilities.

However, this concern was dispelled when the CDPJ effectively accepted the Diet passage of the bill.

Kishida will explore when to dissolve the lower house for a snap election again in the future. The most likely scenario emerging in the LDP is to reshuffle the Cabinet and appoint new LDP executives this summer, and then prepare for the dissolution of the lower house this autumn or later under the new lineups.