- POLITICS & GOVERNMENT
Reshuffle Brings Kishida Cabinet no Instant Ratings Boost; Focus Now on Possible Lower House Dissolution
7:00 JST, September 16, 2023
The results of the latest Yomiuri Shimbun national opinion poll conducted after the second reshuffle of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet disappointed and shocked many members of the government and the ruling parties as the Cabinet approval rating remained unchanged.
Kishida will likely try to increase public support by focusing on economic and other measures for the time being while carefully determining the timing of dissolving the House of Representatives and holding a general election.
“The results are tough. In order to increase the approval rating, I don’t have any idea other than implementing economic measures,” a grim-faced Cabinet member in the field of economy said Thursday.
Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said, “All we can do to turn things around is to push forward economic measures such as addressing high commodity prices.”
Kishida wanted to boost his Cabinet approval rating through the reshuffle and put his government on a stable footing by formulating economic measures designed to support people’s lives. However, the latest opinion poll did not bring the expected results.
One of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s executive members said, “We did not expect the approval rating to show no increase at all after reshuffle.”
Some LDP members turn a cold eye toward Kishida, with one member, who served as a Cabinet member in the past and does not belong to any faction, saying, “The public is aware that too much consideration was given to party factions.”
Setting stage for election
The sluggish approval rating is likely to affect Kishida’s dissolution strategy.
Both ruling and opposition lawmakers speculate that Kishida is trying to create an environment conducive to the possibility of dissolving the lower house this autumn. This speculation comes from the fact that Kishida has recently been trying to move pending issues forward all at once.
At a press conference Wednesday, Kishida announced that the government would compile a large-scale stimulus package and draw up a supplementary budget for fiscal 2023 as early as October.
Regarding the issue of the religious group known as the Unification Church, whose ties with the LDP have been seen as problematic, the government plans to request the Tokyo District Court to issue a dissolution order to the group around October.
Also, ahead of the reshuffle, the LDP and Komeito agreed to revive their electoral cooperation in Tokyo.
At a meeting of Komeito party executives Thursday, Yamaguchi said, “October marks the halfway point of the [full four-year] term for lower house members. From here on, it is important that we all should be ready for elections at any time.”
Katsuya Okada, secretary general of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said to reporters, “I guess that the dissolution is highly likely to happen in October.”
First-timers pose risk
As possible scenarios, it is rumored that Kishida would dissolve the lower house either at the beginning of an extraordinary Diet session likely to be convened as early as Oct. 16, or after the passage of the supplementary budget, which is expected in late October at the earliest. Others believe that the dissolution could take place at the beginning of an ordinary Diet session that opens at the beginning of next year.
However, many LDP members are cautious about an early dissolution of the lower house. A senior member of the Abe faction, the largest faction in the party, opined, “Under the current circumstances in which the reshuffle did not help improve the approval rating, dissolution would be absolutely unthinkable.”
The new Cabinet includes 11 first-timers, which is another cause for concern, because first-time members are seen to come with a greater risk of scandals and inappropriate comments. After the first reshuffle of Kishida’s Cabinet in August last year, four members departed from the Cabinet one after another. Three of them, including then Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi, were first-time members.
In the latest reshuffle, Kishida retained Toshimitsu Motegi as LDP secretary general while Taro Kono and Sanae Takaichi remained in their positions as digital minister and economic security minister, respectively. With an eye on strong potential candidates for the LDP presidential election scheduled for the autumn of 2024, Kishida apparently placed them in his new Cabinet or in the party leadership to create an environment where they might hesitate to challenge him.
“Kishida should wait to dissolve the lower house until his Cabinet approval rating turns around. He does not need to take a risk before the presidential election,” a member of the Kishida faction led by the prime minister said.
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