Miscalculations, Scandals Blight Path Sought by Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

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

A series of policy misfires and personnel scandals have forced Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to drop the option of dissolving the House of Representatives to call a snap election by the end of this year.

Kishida is approaching a pivotal moment when he needs to get his administration back on track and restore trust in his leadership ahead of next autumn’s Liberal Democratic Party presidential election.

As the president of the ruling LDP, Kishida had been counting on the recent cabinet reshuffle and policies including an income tax cut to give him a boost, but they have largely fallen flat.

At the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday, Kishida told reporters that he intended to concentrate on economic policies.

When asked about the lower house dissolution, Kishida replied, “It’s just as I have always said.”

When previously pressed on whether he was considering a dissolution, Kishida had prefaced his answer with “Right now” or “As things stand,” before saying, “I’m not thinking about that.” But he did not use those words this time. This appeared to indicate Kishida’s acceptance that dissolving the lower house would be difficult for the time being.

For some time, the LDP has basked in one-party dominance while facing a plethora of weak opposition parties. A series of highly secret polls the LDP conducted between May and September on the outcomes of a possible lower house election produced encouraging results each time and suggested the makeup of the chamber would remain about the same.

These results prompted Kishida to mull a dissolution before the end of this year, and he trotted out a parade of policies intended to boost his administration. A cabinet reshuffle in September featured a record-tying five female ministers as Kishida sought to freshen up the lineup and illustrate his willingness to appoint more women to important positions. Kishida then played another trump card by announcing tax cuts that deduct a set amount from income and residential taxes.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

All these moves, however, received a lukewarm reception from the public and failed to give Kishida’s approval ratings a bump. The general public didn’t seem to see real significance behind the prime minister’s comments about placing greater emphasis on women and returning part of the recent growth in tax revenue to the people. This was especially so for tax cuts announced at a time when the nation’s finances are already under heavy pressure.

“People saw these as nothing more than attempts to gain popularity,” said an LDP member who previously was a cabinet minister.

One thing after another

The selection of men to fill all 54 senior vice minister and parliamentary secretary posts also sparked criticism of Kishida over personnel matters. A string of scandals involving some of these senior government officials compounded the matter.

In October in separate scandals, Taro Yamada resigned as parliamentary vice minister for education and Mito Kakizawa stepped down as state minister of justice. In November, it was revealed that a company owned by Kenji Kanda, a state minister of finance, had failed to pay taxes.

Adding to Kishida’s headaches, a document detailing suspicions that five LDP factions violated the Political Funds Control Law by failing to list or falsely recording funds has recently been submitted to the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office.

LDP heavyweights have been divided over the possible lower house dissolution. General Council Chairperson Hiroshi Moriyama is among those favoring such a move, while Vice President Taro Aso and Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi adopted a cautious stance. Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, had been closely watching both sides and moving ahead with preparations for either option. However, the headwinds buffeting Kishida’s administration were so strong that calls for dissolving the lower chamber this year have subsided.

Since about summer, Kishida had devised specific plans on tax cuts with party officials including close aide Seiji Kihara, who also is LDP acting secretary general. But Kishida did not consult sufficiently with Aso, Motegi and other bigwigs during that process, which has caused a chill within the party.

“The prime minister seems to be making a great fuss all by himself, and now he has landed in a tight spot,” an LDP member said.


Kishida intends to prod companies to achieve wage hikes from spring 2024 and beyond to help overcome deflation, then determine the timing of the dissolution. Should he lead the LDP to victory in the lower house election, it will set the stage for him to win reelection in the LDP presidential race without a hitch.

The most likely months for the dissolution are thought to be around March or April, after the budget for next fiscal year and tax-related bills have passed the Diet, or around June, when the implementation of tax cuts would overlap with the payment of bonuses to company employees.

However, if Kishida is unable to boost his ratings during the Diet deliberations during what is shaping up to be a long session, his capability to dissolve the chamber could be held up and warning lights on his path to reelection as LDP leader could start flashing.

“For a while at least,” a close aide said, “the prime minister will carefully devote himself to his policies and regroup.”