When the regular session of the Japanese parliament meets in a few weeks, Fumio Kishida will have served as the country’s prime minister for just over three months.
Meanwhile, he led the Liberal Democrats in a lower house election, handled a slew of pandemic-related issues, and passed the biggest supplementary budget in Japanese history. His opinion scores remain at respectable levels and his swift response to the omicron variant has earned him some credit with the Japanese public.
Yet Kishida’s long-term position at the top of government is by no means assured. The road ahead this year will not be easy and he has big hurdles to overcome if he hopes to achieve greater success than his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who bowed less than a year after taking the job. function.
What can we expect for Kishida in 2022? To make sense of the political landscape going forward, there are four basic points to understand.
First, the recent presidential election of the LDP and the election of the Lower House have shown that the traditional political machines are in action. In the LDP presidential race in October, the party chose Kishida, not because he was the most popular candidate among the electorate (it was Taro Kono) and not because he was the most ideologically aligned. with the biggest factions of the LDP (that was Sanae Takaichi). Instead, the party chose Kishida because he was the one that most conformed to the party system.
Kishida is a faction leader who waited for his turn in power and he found himself up against two reform-oriented candidates and one without any faction affiliation. What ultimately happened was the LDP proved once again that the house always wins. That is, the traditional intra-party system for producing the LDP chairman worked as it always has fundamentally.
This is important to Kishida, because it means that the party that produced him may just as well replace him if it hasn’t amassed enough political capital to keep its intra-party opponents at bay.
Meanwhile, the lower house elections showed that the ruling coalition’s traditional voting machines were in action. Despite the struggles of the government led by the PLD-Komeito to fight the pandemic and revitalize the economy, both sides were able to mobilize their support bases and avoid significant losses. Their efforts produced enough votes to ensure a stable majority in the lower house, i.e. vshouse control, all committee chair positions and most committee seats.
This bodes well for the ruling coalition as it looks to the Upper House elections to be held on or around July 24. Barring a colossal failure of the Kishida administration, opposition parties will need to excite the electorate enough to overcome the systemic coalition problem. advantages.
It will be an uphill battle for the opposition. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is trying to rename itself with the election of Kenta Izumi as the new president, but it has a lot of work to do after suffering notable losses in the last election. The Japanese Communist Party was able to mobilize and fund a large number of candidates, but it had one of the worst success rates of any party in terms of securing seats.
The notable exception to this was Nippon Ishin no Kai, who will seek to capitalize on the notable gains of the Lower House. However, the party still has some soul-searching to do as it tries to decide whether it wants to become a viable national alternative to the LDP or whether it is content with its regional power base. If it seeks to expand, the Nippon Ishin no Kai will face strong LDP and Komeito voting systems, as will the other opposition parties.
The second point to understand is that the election of the Lower House gave Kishida a little boost that allowed him to make some political gestures. Kishida has obstacles ahead of him, but the Lower House elections have placed him in a decent position to overcome them. The election result was about as perfect as Kishida could have hoped for as the LDP maintained a stable majority but lost enough seats that he could say the public wants a change from the old ways of doing things. to do business.
Additionally, key LDP players were knocked down, allowing Kishida to make his own moves. The most important pillar to fall was then Secretary General Akira Amari. Amari’s defeat in his one-seat district allowed Kishida to replace this close ally of Shinzo Abe and Taro Aso with the more independent Toshimitsu Motegi and elevate his own ally, Yoshimasa Hayashi, to the post of foreign minister. that Motegi left vacant.
The third point is that despite the boost Kishida received, sharks are still starting to spin inside the LDP. We have to remember that the average tenure of an LDP party president is only two and a half years – even shorter if you remove outliers like Shinzo Abe, Junichiro Koizumi, Yasuhiro Nakasone and Eisaku Sato – and Kishida a a major election coming up next summer.
Meanwhile, others are positioning themselves to assert their own influence. Shinzo Abe has taken the lead of the largest faction in the PLD. Taro Aso may have found himself in a pre-retirement position as PLD vice-president, but he’s not yet ready to relinquish his influence or authority, assuring that it’s his own brother-in-law who succeeded the powerful minister to finance a ticket inside Kishida’s cabinet.
Meanwhile, Sanae Takaichi has asserted himself far more than any recent Chairman of the Policy Research Council, including Kishida when he held that position. She is using the extra boost she got from finishing second in the LDP race to further her political agenda. Meanwhile, although she has publicly affirmed her support for Kishida as long as he is prime minister, Takaichi added that she intends to take over when he is finished.
Then there is Motegi, who is now in the best position to be the next prime minister. He has held all important positions in the government except that of Chief Cabinet Secretary, has taken over the third largest faction of the PLD and is now its secretary general. Motegi holds a solid card, but he will have to temper any political movement against the fact that he holds some responsibility for what is happening with the Kishida administration – especially with the elections to the Upper House. In other words, Motegi’s success is Kishida’s success, and Kishida’s failure is partly Motegi’s failure.
Finally, with the exception of some initiatives, Kishida is to be expected to be a party man at least until the next upper house election. This means that its policies will reflect the LDP platform more than its own personal preferences. To defend his own political agenda, he will have to wait and see how much political capital he will have after the next upper house election.
Given this, we should expect Japan to maintain its current course for at least the next eight months, especially in the areas of diplomacy and security. Kishida will continue to play hard with China while supporting Taiwan. He will work to strengthen ties with the United States while expanding relations with other so-called middle-power nations. He will also express his support for the debate on the constitutional amendment. In short, what we have seen in recent years is what awaits us at least until the summer.
The exception to this rule will be economic policy, although any reform will be further tempered. Kishida has already started defending his “new capitalism” policies by pushing for higher wages, and the massive stimulus package he advocated reflects his preference for the Keynesian economy. How far and how fast he can go, those other sharks in the water, namely Abe and Takaichi, will contest until he can secure more political capital to be able to fend them off.
After the upper house election we will see a cabinet shuffle and we may see a shift in Kishida’s assertiveness. If the ruling coalition wins seats or keeps roughly the same number, Kishida may stray further from the political line of the PLD. The more seats they lose, he will become more and more indebted to the party. If the coalition loses the majority and ends up with what is called a “twisted regime” – that is, the coalition only controls one chamber of parliament – the political landscape may reveal some research. of the PLD for a new Prime Minister.
Michael MacArthur Bosack is the Special Advisor for Government Relations at the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies. He previously served in the Japanese government as a Mansfield Fellow.
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