Japan Prime Minister’s Administration Mired in Slump; Opposition Poised to Ramp Up Attacks When Diet Convenes

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida leaves Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo on Friday.

The approval rating for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stood at 24% in the latest Yomiuri Shimbun survey, showing that his administration has been unable to break out of its slump.

Public distrust in politics is growing due to the political funds scandal involving factions of the Liberal Democratic Party. Amid these circumstances, Kishida has been unable to find a way to boost the administration’s popularity and the people’s trust.

The LDP is currently pondering ways to reform politics. But if there is widespread disappointment with the outcome of these efforts, it will further undermine the prime minister’s hold on the government, putting Kishida on thin ice.

Make-or-break move

“Unless we overcome the challenges in front of us one by one, we can’t move ahead. We have so many things to tackle,” Kishida told close aides on Sunday, sounding like he was also speaking to himself.

Kishida recently took a make-or-break step, announcing the dissolution of the party faction he once led.

“I assume he’s a little disappointed, as he had hoped the Cabinet’s approval rate would improve,” one aide said.

But according to an LDP heavyweight: “The public thinks it’s inconsistent for the prime minister not to dissolve other factions as well. They’ve interpreted this as a lack of leadership.”

A senior member of the Kishida faction said, “The prime minister is seen as unable to make drastic reforms, so he needs to implement bold changes to gain approval.”

The LDP’s political reform headquarters, which is led by Kishida, will soon present an interim report. Attention is focused on the report will contain measures to enhance the transparency of political funds and deal with party factions that are sufficient to convince the public.

However, the prime minister has failed to win public support, and a growing number of party members apparently believe that Kishida will be unable to include the dissolution of factions in the measures. LDP Vice President Taro Aso and party Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi oppose dissolving factions.

Kishida did not inform Aso or Motegi beforehand of his announcement that he would disband his own faction, even though he relies on these two LDP heavyweights for party management. His relationship with them has consequently cooled.

On Sunday night, Kishida met with Aso over dinner at a Tokyo hotel. Aso has expressed displeasure over Kishida’s handling of the matter, and the prime minister apparently wanted to win his understanding.

More challenges

If the foundation of the party becomes unstable and Kishida cannot win the public’s support, the management of his administration will become increasingly uncertain. But more challenges await the already beleaguered prime minister.

At the ordinary Diet session to be convened on Friday, opposition parties are expected to step up their attacks on the administration over the issue of politics and money.

“We should boost the voices of the people and expel from the Diet lawmakers who have violated the rules,” Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Kenta Izumi told reporters on Sunday in the city of Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture.

On April 28, a by-election for the House of Representatives is scheduled to be held in Shimane Constituency No. 1. If more lawmakers are forced to resign, there will be more elections and the LDP will be battered by headwinds.

Many within the ruling parties believe that poor election results would accelerate moves to abandon Kishida.

Critical juncture

The Kishida administration’s approval ratings have experienced dramatic ups and downs every six months.

In November 2022, its support rate dropped to 36% due mainly to problems concerning the Unification Church, formally called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

It surged to 56% in May 2023 thanks to the Group of Seven summit meeting in Hiroshima. However, the figure started declining again following a series of mishaps concerning the My Number personal identification system and other problems.

In November, the Kishida Cabinet’s approval rating tumbled to 24%, the lowest since he formed his government in October 2021.

Kishida’s tenure as party president expires at the end of September. There is little time left for the prime minister, who is poised to seek reelection, to improve the situation.

He is determined to realize wage hikes, an issue of high public interest, but a high-ranking government official expressed a strong sense of crisis.

“This will be a critical juncture as to whether [the administration] can regain support,” the official said. “We have no choice but to make a last-ditch effort.”