Japan is facing big problems. Its next leader offers some bold solutions.
TOKYO – With the world’s oldest population, rapidly declining births, huge public debt and increasing natural disasters from climate change, Japan faces deep challenges the long-running party has failed to tackle has been
Yet in choosing a new prime minister on Wednesday, the Liberal Democratic Party chose the candidate least likely to offer a bold solution.
The party’s elite power brokers, in a runoff election for leadership, chose 64-year-old Fumio Kishida, a moderate, for the leadership, disregarding the public’s choice for a vagabond challenger. In doing so, he anointed a politician who could distinguish him from the unpopular late leader, Yoshihide Suga, or his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.
Elders of the party, which had almost monopolized power in the decades following World War II, have assured their choice that with weak political opposition and low voter turnout, they will have little chance of losing the general election later this year. . So, largely untouched by voter pressure, he chose a predictable former foreign minister who has learned to control any impulse to deviate from the mainstream party platform.
“In a sense, you’re ignoring the voice of rank and file to get someone the party boss is more comfortable with,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo.
But choosing a leader who lacks popular support runs the risk of a backlash that leaves the party vulnerable after the election and makes Mr. Kishida’s job difficult as the country slowly recovers from the six-month pandemic. Emerges from sanctions that have battered the economy.
Mr. Kishida would need to win the public’s trust to show that he is not just a party insider, said Kristi Govela, deputy director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
“If challenges begin to arise,” she said, “we may see that her approval rating is declining very quickly because she is starting from a point of relatively modest support.”
Mr. Kishida was one of four candidates who ran an unusually close race for the leadership position, which led to a runoff between him and Taro Kono, an outspoken non-conformist whose common touches led to What made him popular among the masses and with the rank-and-file. party member. Mr. Kishida was victorious in the second round of voting, in which the ballots cast by Members of Parliament were more important.
He will become prime minister when parliament holds a special session next week, and then leads the party in a general election, which should be held by November.
In his victory speech on Wednesday, Mr. Kishida acknowledged the challenges he faced. “We have mountains of important issues ahead of Japan’s future,” he said.
They are in the loom both at home and abroad. Mr. Kishida is facing rising tensions in the region as China has become increasingly aggressive and North Korea resumes testing ballistic missiles. Taiwan is seeking membership in a multilateral trade agreement that Japan helped negotiate, and Mr. Kishida may have to help with the decision to accept the self-governing island into the group without angering China.
As a former foreign minister, it may be easier for Mr. Kishida to manage his international portfolio. Most analysts expect him to maintain a strong relationship with the United States and continue to form alliances with Australia and India to build a dam against China.
But on the domestic front, he is mostly offering to continue Mr Abe’s economic policies, which have failed to fix the country’s stagnation. Income inequality is increasing as fewer workers benefit from Japan’s oppressive system of lifelong employment – a reality reflected in Mr. Kishida’s campaign promise of a “new capitalism” that would allow companies to share more profits with middle-class workers. encourages to do.
“Japan’s accumulated debt is increasing, and the gap between rich and poor is widening,” said Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo. “I don’t think even a genius can deal with it.”
On the pandemic, Mr. Kishida may initially avoid some of the pressure on Mr. Suga, as the vaccine rollout has picked up pace and nearly 60 percent of the public is now vaccinated. But Mr. Kishida has offered some concrete policies to address other issues such as aging, population decline or climate change.
In a journal questionnaire, he said he needed “scientific verification” that human activities are causing global warming, “I think to some extent.”
Given the enduring power of the Liberal Democratic Party’s right wing, Mr. Kishida closed the daylight with these power brokers during the campaign, despite being a minority in the party.
He had previously gained a reputation as being more bland than the influential right-wing led by Mr. Abe, but during the race for leadership, he expressed a stern stance towards China. As Hiroshima’s parliamentary representative, Mr. Kishida has opposed nuclear weapons, but has made clear his support for restarting Japan’s nuclear power plants since the triple meltdown at Fukushima 10 years ago. are lying idle.
And he reduced his support for changes to the law requiring married couples to share a surname for legal purposes and announced that he would not support same-sex marriage, which is going against public sentiment, but The party is for the views of the conservative elite.
Tobias Harris, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said, “I think Kishida knows how he won, and this was not by appealing to the general public, but by running as a liberal, but supporting his right.” Was doing.” in Washington. “So what this means for the structure of his cabinet and his priorities, and what his party’s platform looks like, could mean he could be pulled in a few different directions.”
In many ways, Wednesday’s election represented a referendum on the lasting impact of Mr Abe, who resigned last due to ill health. He had led the party for eight consecutive years, a remarkable tenure given Japan’s history of rotating prime ministers. When he left office, the party elected Mr. Suga, who had served as Mr. Abe’s chief cabinet secretary, to expand his boss’ legacy.
But over the past year, the public has become increasingly disillusioned with Mr. Suga, who lacked charisma and failed to connect with the average electorate. Although Mr Abe backed Sana Takaichi – a staunch conservative seeking to become Japan’s first female prime minister – to revive her base in the party’s right wing, analysts and other lawmakers said she had run into Mr. Helped support Kishida. .
As a result, Mr. Kishida can be grateful to his predecessor.
“Kishida cannot go against Abe,” said former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who twice challenged Mr. Abe for party leadership and withdrew from running in the leadership election this month to support Mr. Kono.
“I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘puppet’, but maybe she’s a puppet?” Mr. Ishiba added. “What is clear depends on Abe’s influence.”
During the campaign of the party leadership, Mr. Kishida acknowledged some dissatisfaction with the Abe era with his talk of a “new capitalism”. In doing so, he followed a familiar template within the Liberal Democratic Party, which specializes in adopting policies first introduced by the opposition to keep voters confident.
“That’s why they have maintained such a long life as a party,” said Saori Ann Katada, professor of international relations at the University of Southern California. “Kishida is definitely taking that card and running with it.”
makiko inouehandjob Hikari Hida And Hisako Uno Contributed reporting.
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