Yoshimasa Hayashi Provides Vital Support For Japan’s Kishida Administration; Some Say Trust and Tension Coexist Between Hayashi, Kishida

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday.

It has now been six months since Yoshimasa Hayashi assumed the post of Chief Cabinet Secretary under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Since then, he has been a pillar of stability in a time of low approval ratings for the government.

He took the post in a personnel reshuffle in December following the eruption of a series of political funds scandals involving factions within the Liberal Democratic Party.

Yet some within the party have voiced dissatisfaction over his performance as the cornerstone of the administration, taking on roles like acting as an intermediary with its coalition partner.

“I have listened in good faith to the voices of those who do not trust politics, and I do not take my duties lightly. I will continue to firmly support the administration’s work,” Hayashi, 63, told reporters on Thursday.

This is his seventh time serving as a cabinet member; in the past he has taken posts including agricultural minister, education minister and foreign minister.

Hayashi, who is known as a policy expert, rarely makes verbal gaffes. He effortlessly handles daily press conferences and never loses his cool when managing crises like the major quake that hit the Noto Peninsula in January.

When various ministries and agencies seek Kishida’s opinion on a matter, according to his close aides, he often says, “If the Chief Cabinet Secretary says it’s OK, then it’s OK.” Such is the prime minister’s apparent confidence in Hayashi’s political skill.

On the other hand, Hayashi keeps himself firmly separated from the recent series of political funds scandals involving LDP factions. He has reportedly told those around him that “someone in the government should not meddle in party affairs.”

As a result, Kishida is often seen making arrangements and negotiating with party executives by himself. “Mr. Hayashi doesn’t have enough political courage,” said a mid-ranking LDP member, who remembers how Yoshihide Suga, as chief cabinet secretary in the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, used to make every effort to coordinate policies with the LDP’s junior coalition partner, Komeito.

Some believe that Hayashi’s stance on this comes from the delicate sense of distance between him and the prime minister. The two has long been rivals as people on whom the LDP’s Kochikai, known as the Kishida faction, has staked its hopes.

Before officially offering Hayashi his current post, Kishida sounded out his intention through the party’s Acting Secretary General Seiji Kihara. A person familiar with the faction says Kishida and Hayashi are in a relationship where “trust and tension coexist.”

Yet it is essential for Hayashi, who aspires to be Kishida’s successor, to support the administration of the so-called Kochikai faction. The test of his political capability will be whether he is able to strengthen the Cabinet’s cohesive power amid the adverse winds now blowing against the administration.