Kishida Marks 1,000 Days in Office; Plagued by Low Approval Ratings Despite Policy Achievements

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Kishida answers questions from reporters on Friday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida marked 1,000 days in office Saturday but, despite the policy achievements he boasts of, he has been burdened by low approval ratings.

Kishida has been tackling issues that have been left unaddressed since the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, such as measures to drastically strengthen defense capabilities and to restart nuclear power plants. He also is proud of his success in his endeavor to promote diplomatic and economic policies, but that has not led the public to give him high marks.

It has been noted that Kishida has failed to coordinate with ruling Liberal Democratic Party members and others as well as provide necessary explanations to the public.

Asked by reporters how he feels about his tenure as prime minister on Friday, Kishida said, “It has been constantly tense as I’ve found myself grappling with many issues both at home and abroad.”

Regarding this autumn’s LDP presidential race, Kishida, who is expected to try to keep his post as LDP president, did not go further than saying, “I am doing my utmost to achieve results on issues that cannot be postponed, such as political reform and economic issues.”

Kishida’s greatest achievement is the revision of three documents, including the National Security Strategy, which clarify the nation’s possession of counterattack capabilities and the increase in defense expenditures, thereby marking a turning point in the government’s postwar security policy.

In the area of nuclear energy policy, Kishida announced his intention to promote the resumption of nuclear power plants and to consider building new nuclear reactors. He also gave the decision to release into the ocean treated water stored at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Kishida aimed to completely break the economy free from deflation, and the highest average wage hikes in 33 years were realized in this year’s shunto spring wage negotiations. The Nikkei stock average also reached its highest level in about 34 years.

Calling for “extraordinary measures to address the low birth rate,” Kishida also revised a law to establish a support fund for children and child rearing.

Initial success not maintained

However, these achievements have not directly improved the approval rating of the Cabinet.

According to nationwide surveys by The Yomiuri Shimbun, the approval rating for Kishida’s Cabinet, which was 56% at the time of its inauguration, temporarily rose to 66% due to “surprise announcements” by the prime minister, such as bringing forward the House of Representatives election to October 2021 and a ban on the entry of nonresident foreigners following the outbreak of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in November that year.

The approval rating declined after a number of LDP lawmakers were found to have had ties to the Unification Church, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, in the aftermath of the shooting of Abe in July 2022. The alleged assailant was a so-called “second-generation follower” — those whose lives are believed to have been left in tatters by the excessive donations made by their parents to the religious group and the abuse they suffered in the name of religion. Abe was targeted due to his perceived ties with the group.

The approval rating for the Cabinet has languished in the 20% range since November last year in the wake of alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law by LDP factions.

Lack of communication

Kishida’s way of presenting decisions and polices in a sudden and abrupt manner has sometimes caused confusion within the LDP.

His decision to dissolve the Kishida faction without sufficient consultation with senior party officials following the political funds law violation scandal and his attendance at the Deliberative Council on Political Ethics of the lower house invited backlash from LDP members. A senior LDP member said Kishida “acted arbitrarily.”

A lack of communication between Kishida and Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, also was apparent. They had been in conflict over the adjustment of electoral districts for the lower house election.

Kishida’s repeated concessions during discussions over amendments to the Political Funds Control Law also caused friction between him and LDP Vice President Taro Aso, who serves as Kishida’s “backer.” Kishida caved to pressure from other parties, including Komeito and the opposition Japan Innovation Party, during the recent ordinary Diet session.

The confusion within the Kishida administration may be seen by the public as a sign of his lack of leadership. “It is regrettable that he failed to make efforts to carefully lay the groundwork [to win necessary understanding among LDP members and others] and to offer necessary explanations to the public,” a senior government official said.