Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Japan's Ambiguous Prime Minister

Kishida In The Danger Zone

By Takuya Nishimura, APP Senior Fellow, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
November 26, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point

Despite new policies to help families, the approval rating of the Fumio Kishida Cabinet has plunged into a dangerous level below 30%. The polls show people’s frustration with Kishida’s ambiguous attitude toward repairing the economy. With his low popularity, Kishida is not likely to call a snap election to re-boot his administration. Some lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are beginning to consider replacements of the prime minister, who is also their party president. However, Kishida enjoys the luck of having no obvious successor.

The polls taken in the third weekend of November marked record low approval ratings for the Kishida Cabinet. Among three major newspapers: 25% approved Kishida Cabinet in Asahi Shimbun’s poll and 65% disapproved; Yomiuri Shimbun’s poll showed 24% approval and 62% disapproval; and Mainichi Shimbun’s found 21% approval and 74% disapproval. These approval ratings were the lowest not only since Kishida took office in October 2021, but since the LDP retook the administration from Democratic Party of Japan in 2012.

The main reason for the abrupt decline is Kishida’s economic policies. His administration announced a new economic stimulus plan earlier this month, including tax cuts for all taxpayers and their families and an allowance for low-income families. In the three polls above, less than 30% were positive about the tax cut and more than 60% were opposed.

Taxpayers are supposed to welcome any tax cut, which will return money to their wallets. But in this case the Japanese do not, because Kishida earlier had announced a tax increase for the defense budget. Recognizing widespread skepticism about the proposed tax cut, Kishida decided not to start the tax increase until FY 2024. But the tax increase eventually will take effect, and expectations for the tax cut have not risen.

Doubts about the future of the tax cut seemed to be confirmed when Minister of Finance Shun-ichi Suzuki revealed that the government’s budget surplus, which was supposed to cover the tax cut, has been spent already. A tax cut thus would require an additional issuance of government bonds. Given this situation, the issue becomes what is the purpose of the tax cut. The answer is for Kishida to win elections, not only the next general election of House of Representatives but also his own reelection as LDP president next fall (and thus remain prime minister).

Kishida’s other policies suffer from similar ambiguities and contradicitions. At the beginning of this year, Kishida proposed “different-dimensioned” measures to reverse the country’s declining birthrate. His cabinet approved a Children’s Future Strategic Plan in June. But in the fall, his focus shifted to ending deflation with the refrain “It’s the economy, economy and economy,” and he promoted policies for wage hikes and investment.

In the Diet discussion on the supplementary defense budget, the head of Constitutional Democratic Party, Kenta Izumi, argued that the delivery of economic measures were too late to help the people. Commodity price hikes have been damaging the people’s ordinary life. In response, the Kishida administration reluctantly began to consider the “trigger clause.” which would provide tax relief when gasoline prices rise steeply.

Kishida must be disappointed with the result of the polls, which were conducted soon after a series of mid-November diplomatic events in San Francisco. In the meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, Kishida reconfirmed the close cooperation with Biden on the situation in Israel and Palestine and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Kishida also agreed with Chinese President Xi Jinping on holding a High-level Economic Dialogue for cooperation on green-economy and medical-care issues. But those efforts did not move the public opinion dial.

It can be said that any potential gains in popularity as the result of diplomacy were offset by successive scandals in the Kishida administration. Just before Kishida flew to San Francisco, State Minister of Finance Kenji Kanda stepped down under suspicion of late tax payments by his businesses. Given Kanda’s role as tax collector, the delay was nothing but an insult to taxpayers.

Kanda was the fourth minister in a month to resign after a scandal. Each time, Kishida offered a rote response: admitting his responsibility as the appointor of ministers and expressing his determination to continue his job. The consecutive scandals, dubbed as “resignation domino,” revealed Kishida’s weakness in adequately vetting the personnel working for him.

Looking at the administration’s slump, at least one LDP member is considering entry in the post-Kishida race. Minister in charge of Economic Security Sanae Takaichi launched the “Power of Japan” Study Group with some fellow conservatives. Although Takaichi expects support from the Abe faction, the faction has already expressed its support for Kishida’s reelection. One of the five leaders of the Abe faction, Hiroshige Seko, has criticized her action as “questionable” for a Minister in the Kishida Cabinet.

Among the names raised in the polls, former Minister of Environment Shinjiro Koizumi and Minister for Digital Transformation Taro Kono are popular as post-Kishida figures. They share an interest in the introduction of a rideshare system in Japan to address the shortage of taxi drivers. Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has joined their efforts. Although all three lawmakers represent districts in the Kanagawa Prefecture, they have not been able to turn ride sharing into a campaign issue.

There is speculation in the LDP that the current situation of Kishida administration resembles that of Taro Aso administration in late 2000s. After facing a major economic crisis with Lehman Shock, Aso’s approval rating fell as low as 25% in December 2008, and it kept on declining below 20%. Although the remaining term of the lawmakers in House of Representatives was less than a year, Aso did not dare call a snap election with such a low rating. Aso soon lost the general election in August 2009 and handed the government over to the DPJ.

It is notable that Aso maintained his administration for nine months after his approval rating had fallen to 25%. The polls showed that Aso was less popular than the opposition leader at the time, Ichiro Ozawa. Nevertheless, the lack of a prominent alternative leader in the LDP saved Aso from being replaced as LDP president and thus as prime minister.

Kishida has no prominent opposition leader challenging him. Takaichi has no hope of receiving meaningful support from the Abe faction. Supporters of Koizumi and Kono have not organized their campaign teams. Former Minister of Defense Shigeru Ishiba is popular in the polls, but he is a lone wolf in the LDP.

The major LDP factions still support Kishida, and thus his political standing continues. Moreover, the current money scandals among these factions may make them passive in a presidential race. Kishida maintains his unpopular administration through a strange balance of power in Japanese politics.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Diplomacy-Kishida's Bright Spot

Japan’s Work in Leading the G7

By Takuya Nishimura
, Senior Fellow, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
November 12, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point

Diplomacy is one of the few bright spots for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who continues to suffer from a low domestic approval rating. The November 7th and 8th G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Tokyo should have been a good opportunity for him to demonstrate his leadership. Japan holds the G7 chair through the end of this year.

In the two-day meeting, Japan, through Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, successfully orchestrated a joint statement that addressed events in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank and continued to back Ukraine in its resistance to the Russian invasion. The joint statement also promoted an open Indo-Pacific region, made clear that the G7 countries would pursue their national interests in dealing with China, supported the sovereignty of countries in Central Asia and South Caucasus, criticized the destabilizing activities of Iran, and committed to deepening partnerships with African countries.

With respect to the Middle East more specifically, a joint statement called for humanitarian pauses in the war between Israel and Hamas. The chairwoman of the meeting, Foreign Minister Kamikawa, emphasized the significance of the G7 countries having agreed for the first time to issue a “unified message.” In her post-meeting press conference, Kamikawa said, “I think it is an important achievement for G7 to take responsibility on this issue and for Japan in fulfilling our role as the G7 chair this year.”

The inability to issue a unified message earlier lies largely at the feet of the Kishida administration. One month ago, Japan did not join the Joint Statement on Israel on October 9th, in which five leaders of G7 condemned the Hamas’ attack on Israel, calling it terrorist actions and supporting Israel’s right to self-defense. Two weeks later, Japan also opted out of the joint statement by six leaders on October 22nd, which called on Israel to adhere to international humanitarian law including the protection of civilians. Japan at last caught up with G7 at the Tokyo meeting, a month after the Hamas attack.

The joint statement of G7 foreign ministers issued in Tokyo treated Israel and Palestine with greater equivalency than the previous two statements. The November 8 statement expressed sympathy and extended condolences to the victims of the attacks as well as to Palestinians and Israelis who have died or injured. They statement called for “humanitarian pauses and corridors to facilitate urgently needed assistance, civilian movement, and the release of hostages.

Two days before the statement was released, U.S. President Joe Biden had proposed a “humanitarian pause” to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Japan as the chair country for the G7 meeting accordingly was expected include this concept in the statement. The U.S. leader rather than the Kishida administration thus carried the day on this matter.

Since Hamas attack in early October, Japan has been keeping its channels open with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. In a meeting with the Israeli Foreign Minister on November 3, Foreign Minister Kamikawa stated that all parties to the conflict must act in accordance with international law in. In Gaza, she offered an additional humanitarian support. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visits to Israel and Gaza a few days later overshadowed Kamikawa’s visit, however.

A few days after G7 foreign ministers issued the statement, Israel agreed to four-hour daily humanitarian pauses in its assault on Hamas in northern Gaza. Asked about the pause and humanitarian corridor in a press conference, Kamikawa avoided connecting Israel’s decision with for the G7 joint statement. Thus, Japan’s role in the G7 on the issue of Middle East is still unclear.

Regarding Russia and Ukraine, Japan’s relations with Russia have been deteriorating for some time, including on the issue of the Northern Territory of Japan. As a result, Japan has strongly opposed Russia on the invasion of Ukraine Japan’s position was captured in a sentence in the joint statement: “A just and lasting peace cannot be realized without the immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of Russia’s troops and military equipment from the internationally recognized territory of Ukraine.”

In supporting Ukraine, because constitutional limits prevent Japan from providing much military assistance, Japan has focused on post-war reconstruction efforts. Former Minister for Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi visited Kyiv in September with a business delegation from Japan. Hence this sentence in the G7 foreign ministers’ statement: “We are also working to involve our private sectors in the sustainable economic recovery of Ukraine.”

The Kishida administration will send the state ministers Kazuchika Iwata (METI) and Iwao Horii (MOFA) to Ukraine with another business delegation next week. Japan will host a conference for the economic reconstruction of Ukraine next February. But it is too early to talk about business deals while fierce battles rage in the eastern part of Ukraine.

As for the Indo-Pacific region, Japan deserves the credit for including the region’s issues in the G7 agenda. When Hamas attacked Israel in early October, Kamikawa was on a trip to ASEAN countries to reinforce Japan’s ties with them and counteract China’s advance in the region. The G7 foreign ministers’ statement noted that they would continue their endeavors towards a free and open Indo-Pacific, which is inclusive, prosperous, secure, and based on the rule of law.

The statement also supported Japan’s discharge of treated water from crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. “We welcome Japan’s safe, transparent, and science-based process, including the continued monitoring of the situation, to responsibly manage of Advanced Liquid Processing System treated water,” said the statement. Japan’s dispute with China over the treated water remains unresolved.

On China, the G7 foreign ministers expressed their concern “about the situation in the East and South China Seas, strongly opposing any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion.” Further, the foreign ministers “reaffirm the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as indispensable to security and prosperity in the international community and call for the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” Those arguments are in harmony with Japan’s interests.

Notwithstanding the many vital world events discussed at the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting, the meeting has not contributed to the Kishida administration’s popular standing so far. Kamikawa observed in her press conference that Japan’s term as the G7 chair remains for as much as two months. She hopes to reach out to the “global south” in the meetings of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in San Francisco this week. Kishida will also have important meetings with world leaders in the backdrop to APEC. Success or failure in those meetings may affect the fortunes of the Kishida administration to a much greater degree.

Kishida Continues with Unintended Errors

PM Kishida Fails in Preventing Scandal

By Takuya Nishimura, Senior Fellow, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
November 5, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point 

Only five days after a Parliamentary Vice-Minister resigned after his illicit relationship with a woman became public, a State Minister stepped down due to his involvement in an illegal local election campaign. Although Prime Minister Fumio Kishida admitted his responsibility for the original appointments, he nevertheless failed to appoint the right people. As scandals accumulate, Kishida has responded to each of them in the same way. He is, losing credibility, and the accreting misadventures are slowly damaging his administration.

The State Minister of Justice, Mito Kakizawa, resigned on October 31st, admitting his involvement in an illegal election campaign in April for a mayoral candidate in Tokyo’s Koto Ward, Yayoi Kimura. Kimura appeared in an advertising video on YouTube with the subtitle “Vote for Yayoi Kimura.” The Public Offices Election Law prohibits paid election advertisements on the Internet. Accused of a violation in the local assembly, Kimura stepped down as mayor in late October.

In an interview with the Asahi Shimbun, Kakizawa acknowledged that he had advised Kimura to make that ad, because it would be “effective.” But a State Minister of Justice should know well about the illegality of the campaign ad. Kakizawa resigned five days after Kimura stepped down.

Since then, the Yomiuri Shimbun has reported that Kakizawa is suspected of giving money to an assembly member of Koto Ward in exchange for support for Kimura in the campaign in April. The Special Investigation Department of Tokyo Public Prosecutors’ Office has been interviewing assembly members about the alleged bribe. A similar incident involving Katsuyuki Kawai in Hiroshima, led to his arrest in 2020 and imprisonment in 2021.

This is serious stuff for Kishida, who had just replaced his Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Education and Post-Disaster Reconstruction after a reported extramarital affair. “I take my responsibility as the appointer seriously. I'll do my best to regain citizens' trust,” Kishida said in the discussion at the Committee on Budget in the House of Councillors on October 31st.

When Kishida reshuffled the State Ministers and Parliamentary Vice-Ministers in September and was criticized for not appointing any women, he argued that the selections were based on a concept of the “appropriate person to the appropriate position.” When asked whether the appointment of Kakizawa was “appropriate,” Kishida did not answer the question but said that he would do his best to regain credibility.

Since Kishida took office in 2021, his administration has endured several ministerial and staff resignations. In 2022, a “resignation domino” trend began: consecutive resignations of four Ministers: Minister for Economic Revitalization Daishiro Yamagiwa with a suspected relationship with the former Unification Church; Minister of Justice Yasuhiro Hanashi with a gaffe on the death penalty; Minister for Internal Affairs Minoru Terada with a scandal on payments for political activities; and Minister for Reconstruction Kenya Akiba with a money scandal.

Reporters have been asking how this could have happened. Kishida’s response has been the same. “I recognize my responsibility for appointing him. That is why I will take responsibility for promoting a bunch of issues forward,” Kishida said when Yamagiwa resigned.

This pattern is the same in other cases. A scandal happens, Kishida urges the suspected person to explain, the person resigns, and Kishida replaces the person and concedes his own responsibility for the appointment. But he never imposes any penalty on himself, and says only that he will continue to do his best This pattern has generated a steady decline in his approval rating

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe handled scandals in a similar way with the motto “responsible but carry on.” When Minister for Economic Revitalization Akira Amari resigned in 2016, Abe said, “responsibility for the appointment belongs to me, and I deeply apologize to the nation.” Abe, however, did not take any specific measures to prevent scandals, other than to replace the offending minister.

Nevertheless, Abe successfully maintained his administration because he enjoyed a relatively high public approval rating. He also received support from the lawmakers in Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), because he was the leader of the biggest faction and brought victory to the LDP in the elections in both Houses. Kishida does not have these advantages. Moreover, Kishida’s repeated Cabinet reshufflings – two within two years – have made matters worse for him. Although he believes that the reshufflings create political momentum, they increase the chances of unwise appointments.

If Kishida is to avoid scandals and resignations, he needs better background information about potential appointees. But his State Ministers and Parliamentary Vice-Ministers are selected solely from lists forwarded by various factions in the LDP. It is doubtful that Kishida had good staff work.

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi upheld a principle of “One Cabinet, One Minister,” which meant that each minister should remain as long as possible. If a Minister is changed in the short term, he or she will not accumulate enough knowledge on policies. Koizumi introduced the same principle in his Cabinet to keep the grip on the bureaucracy. Kishida has many things to learn from past Prime Ministers.

Internal Discord in Japan Continues to Erode Kishida's Administration

Kishida Takes Friendly Fire from his Party

By Takuya Nishimura, Senior Fellow, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
October 29, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point

Live TV coverage of the prime minister’s question and answer sessions in the Diet is not popular since the questions and the answers look like they are following script. In the latest session, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida began by just reading out prepared papers at the podium.
Viewers would have been rewarded, however, by the aggressive Q&As that followed.  These were led not by the opposition parties, but by the LDP. The party’s members seem to be frustrated with Kishida’s indecision on tax policy and the continuing decline in popular support for the Cabinet.
The Q&A session began with an unusually critical speech by Hiroshige Seko, the Secretary General for the LDP in the House of Councillors. “Regretfully, I cannot help recognize some weakness in the decisions and words of Prime Minister Kishida so far,” said Seko.

Referring to Kishida’s actions on the announcement of tax cuts, Seko said “although you said on September 25th, that you would properly return the increased tax revenue to the people, the word ‘return’ was not easy to understand. The word invited speculation in the leading parties on whether it meant allowance or tax cut, and you failed in communicating with the public about what were you wanted to do at all.”
To be fair, it is not correct to say that Kishida suddenly began to mention “return” of increased tax revenue only a month ago. In his 2021 campaign, Kishida argued for the distribution of the fruits of economic growth, in the context of a contemporary income doubling plan. Kishida has simply missed opportunities to remind the nation of his idea.
Seko also instructed Kishida on what he should have done. “If you have said that ‘I will immediately introduce an allowance, because the hardship of a low-income family is serious. I will also deal with tax cut for the rising price because it oppresses middle class households and causes stagnation of consumption. I will decide those measures consulting with the experts in LDP,’ the discussion in the party would not be so confused and the people could easily understand your idea.” The words of a would-be prime minister indeed.
Kishida’s response was not illuminating. “In the time of major change in economy, society, diplomacy and security,” said Kishida, “it is important for a leader to tell the people about the change and show an attitude with strong determination to achieve the policy goals for an ideal future.” Any prime minister can say that.
Kishida’s reception among LDP leadership was no better in the House of Representatives. This time the focus was on a constitutional amendment allowing for the Self-Defense Forces. LDP Deputy Secretary General Tomomi Inada asked Kishida about his position on such an amendment. Inada argued strongly for adding the words “Self-Defense Forces” to Article 9. Further, she noted that the Constitution’s preamble states “we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.” Inada, like former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, dismissed this as incompatible with the current world reality.
Kishida answered that he would responsibly tackle the issue as the president of LDP. “The Constitution is a basic law which describes the shape of a state as it should be. It is important to think about whether it has been fitting for the changes, for example, in the security environment around Japan or in society with decline of population and demographical concentration to Tokyo,” said Kishida. Notably, Kishida’s view of the Constitution as a basic law differs from Abe’s position that the Constitution should be something telling about the future or the ideal shape of a state.
The opposition parties were antagonistic as well. Kishida once said that he would accomplish amending the Constitution within his term as the president of LDP, which means that it should be done before the presidential election next fall. Conservative groups in LDP insist on it. At this time, if Kishida is to succeed, the draft of the amendment must be passed in the regular session of the Diet next year, which will lead to a national referendum.
The other opposition parties agree. The leader of the Democratic Party for the People, Yuichiro Tamaki, said that this extraordinary session is the final opportunity for reaching an agreement on the amendment. If the parties fail to do so, the amendment will not be initiated in next regular session. The head of the Innovation Party, Nobuyuki Baba, asked whether Kishida is sufficiently determined that he will step down if there is no action by next fall. Kishida answered only repeated his responsibility for the issue.
The opposition also focused on the economy, arguing that Kishida’s economic policy hurts low-income families. In contrast to Kishida’s phrase, “It’s economy, economy and economy,” Kenta Izumi, the head of the Constitutional Democratic Party stressed that “It’s allowance, allowance and allowance.” He proposed a ¥30,000 of allowance for all low-income families by the end of this year. Izumi observed that tax cuts will take time, because the cuts must be debated before they can be enacted in regular session of the Diet next year.
Izumi also pointed out the contradiction between a tax increase to fund the defense budget and a tax cut to fight inflation. That contradiction is a vulnerability of Kishida’s.  LDP lawmakers have asked the same question. The Chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, Koichi Hagiuda, has dismissed a tax increase for defense in 2024.
In the discussion in Committee on Budget in the House of Representatives after the parliamentary questions were finished, Kishida announced that he would not pursue a tax increase next year. Well, how is Kishida going to find alternative funding for the defense budget? It is likely that the opposition parties will have a field day with Kishida’s inconsistency on tax policies.
A third issue in the Diet was the My Number Card. In an unexpected response to Izumi’s request to postpone the elimination of the current health insurance card, Kishida said he would take necessary measures to avoid further implementation issues, even if more time is needed.
Kishida has been changing his focus from one issue to another: from defense enhancement to the low birth rate, and from tax increases to tax cuts or allowances. Compromises indicate a lack of policy deliberation and may cause voters to see Kishida as a weak leader.
With the parliamentary questions finished, there is no sign that Kishida’s approval rating will rise. They in fact have declined further, with TV Asahi and others reporting on the results of its opinion poll conducted over the weekend that put the approval rating for the Kishida Cabinet at a record low of 26.9%, down 3.8 points from last month.
Meanwhile, another scandal has hit the Kishida administration. The Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Education, Taro Yamada, stepped down after Shukan Bunshun Online reported that Yamada had an extramarital affair. “I wanted to prevent the matter from becoming an obstacle to parliamentary business,” said Yamada to the reporters.

Yet another blow to the Kishida administration. 

How Stable is Kishida's Government?

Japan’s By-elections Generate Instability

By Takuya Nishimura, Senior Fellow, Former Editorial Writer for The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
You can find his blog, J Update here.
October 23, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point

On October 22nd in two by-elections, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won one and lost the other. This is not a draw, because both seats had been occupied by the LDP. Now the LDP holds one seat fewer in the Diet. The election results reveal instability in Fumio Kishida’s administration, which is facing public frustration with inflation and his government’s indecisiveness. The possibility of a snap election this year is declining while skepticism of Prime Minister Kishida’s leadership is on the rise.
The first of the two elections was set in the Tokushima-Kochi district for the House of Councillors after the June resignation of Kojiro Takano, who was accused of violence against a member of his staff. Ken Nishiuchi, a former member of Kochi Prefectural Assembly ran on the LDP ticket. The opposition parties (except for the Innovation Party) agreed to support Hajime Hirota, a former Upper House member with the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP).
Hirota won by a large margin. LDP was at a disadvantage from the start because of widespread criticism of Takano. Having experienced a bitter defeat in the 2022 election, in which the opposition parties were divided, the CDP, the National Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Japan Communist Party all supported Hirota. While the parties hailed the result as an achievement of cooperation, it is unlikely to lead to a dramatic increase in unified candidate in every district. Some regions are still firmly opposed to the CDP.
The LDP won the election in the Nagasaki 4th district of the House of Representatives by a narrow margin that must be regarded as a stroke of luck. The local organization of the LDP has been divided in local gubernatorial and mayoral elections. The LDP’s candidate, Yozo Kaneko had the advantage of name recognition: he is a son of former governor and former Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Genjiro Kaneko. Yozo also benefited from low turnout. The result was that the share of LDP supporters increased among those who voted.
Yet, the wind is blowing against the LDP. As with most ordinary people in Japan, the voters in Nagasaki are tired of persistent inflation. Kishida’s idea of a tax increase to fund the defense budget was overwhelmingly unpopular. He had ordered the LDP to consider income tax cuts just before the voting day, but that indecisive attitude caused more disappointment than expectation.
A month ago, LDP Vice-president Taro Aso accused the coalition partner Komeito as “cancer” in the discussion over defense policy. That worked against Kaneko’s campaign, which relied on Komeito’s support. Defense Minister Minoru Kihara’s gaffe during the campaign, asking voters to support the Self-defense Force, possibly had a negative impact on the campaign as well. It would not have been strange if the LDP had lost in the Nagasaki 4th.
Although LDP had set a goal of winning just one of the two by-elections, the result of the by-elections will damage the Kishida administration. As seen in the reshuffle of his Cabinet last month, Kishida’s primary goal is reelection next year. For that purpose, Kishida has been willing to take advantage of his authority to dissolve the House of Representatives and to call for a snap election at any time.
A week before the election day, all the polls by the newspapers of Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri and Kyodo News marked the lowest voter approval rate of the Kishida Cabinet since it took office. Even though Kishida administration has sought to eliminate the Family Federation of World Peace and Unification, a step that most people supported, it did not help improve the rating. While the polls suggested that administrative failures, such as the the registration of My Number Card caused the decline, Kishida said only that he would deal with the issues that could not be postponed.
The result of by-elections may accelerate the downward trend in the polls. Kishida obviously must show some policy achievements to reverse the trend. Kishida is now focused on economic measures, given public frustration with inflation. But these efforts will not yield much benefit in the short term.
The economic measures involve tax cuts and new government spending. The Bank of Japan has continued monetary easing. All of these policies, however, are inflationary in nature. The Prime Minister continues to argue that he will improve the ordinary life of the people, but he will look to be doing nothing until the policies show results. 
Not only the opposition parties but also LDP lawmakers are raising objections to the possible dissolution of the House of Representatives by the end of the year. It is not uncommon for the lawmakers to defy their prime minister with low popularity when he seeks the dissolution, because the following general election will present a big risk for their survival.
If the party leader is not reliable, it is natural for the members to try to replace him. Each faction in the party will discuss how to avoid the crisis and will propose candidates in the election next fall. To keep away from that vicious circle, Kishida has at least to raise his approval rating and show some policy achievements within this year.
It is unclear whether Kishida recognizes the difficulty he is in. “We’re taking the results seriously and will make every effort to deal with the situation,” Kishida said to the reporters the day after the election. That indicated that the result of the election was not good for Kishida. In the policy speech to the Diet on the same day, Kishida stressed his eagerness to grab the opportunity for changes in the economy. While he reiterated his effort to raise workers’ wages, there was no clear prescription on the inflation.
The chief of Diet affairs in Constitutional Democratic Party, Jun Azumi, said that the results of the by-election showed that many voters were dissatisfied with or uncertain about the Kishida Cabinet’s failure to quickly take steps against rising prices. The opposition parties questioned Kishida’s policy handling in the discussions at the extraordinary session of the Diet convened last Friday, October 20th.
Although only by-elections, the results may affect national politics. The competency of Kishida’s administration was questioned in the campaign. When the LDP introduced the current by-election system in 2000, which holds by-elections only twice a year, the purpose was to avoid political instability brought about by each unpredictable by-election. But consolidated by-elections may also have a large impact on politics. It is sometimes possible that the mishandling of a by-election can lead to the collapse of an administration.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Monday Asia Events, November 7, 2023

ASSESSING US-CHINA INTERACTION AT APEC. 11/6, Noon-1:00pm(PT), HYBRID. Sponsors: Brookings & CISAC. Speakers: Colin H. Kahl, Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; Patricia M. Kim, Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center for East Asia Policy Studies, John L. Thornton China Center; Oriana Skylar Mastro, Center Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford U; Gita Wirjawan, Visiting Scholar at APARC, Standord U. 

A LOOK AT KOREA AS A FROG OUTSIDE THE WELL AN OUTSIDER'S PERSPECTIVE ON KOREAN HISTORY. 11/6, 6:00pm (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Korea Society. Speaker: author Dr. Mark Peterson, Professor emeritus of Korean, Asian and Near Eastern languages at Brigham Young University in Utah.

NAVIGATING THE U.S.-CHINA TECHNOLOGY COMPETITION. 11/6, 6:30pm (EST), IN PERSON ONLY. Sponsor: Japan Society. Speakers: Chris Miller, Associate Professor of International History at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University; Kazuto Suzuki, Professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Tokyo, Japan, Director of the Institute of Geoeconomics at International House of Japan.