Saturday, December 23, 2023

The Decoupling of the Abe Faction

JAPAN POINT ⚫️ 日本ポイント

research on contemporary Japan
Vol. VII, No. 3, December 18, 2023

by Takuya Nishimura, Senior Fellow
retired chief editorial writer for the Hokkaido Shimbun

On Thursday, December 14, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida replaced four Cabinet Ministers affiliated with the faction founded by Shinzo Abe (Seiwa-kai) in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). This faction is suspected of having distributed secret slush funds to its members. On the same day, two LDP board members also submitted their resignations to Kishida, reportedly in frustration with Kishida singling out the Abe faction in connection with the growing political funds scandal.

A deep rift is appearing within the ruling LDP. At his Thursday press conference, Kishida did not explain how he, as LDP president, would take responsibility for the expanding scandal. “I will deal with this issue, becoming a fireball, at the frontline of the LDP for restoring the people’s credibility,” Kishida just said. Even after removing the Abe faction Cabinet ministers, the Kishida administration is in jeopardy.

The Prime Minister also emphasized that he will promote party reform while watching closely the Tokyo Prosecutor’s investigation. The direction of the reforms will be based on who is ultimately arrested or indicted. Kishida suggested that there may be a discussion on amending the Political Funds Control Act or reconsidering the roles of factions in LDP politics. He concluded that he cannot afford to think about a snap election or a Cabinet reshuffle until after the budget bill for FY 2024 passes the Diet in March.

Kishida replaced Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno with the recently former Minister for Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi, who serves as the titular head of the Kishida faction. Matsuno reportedly received over ¥10 million of secret money from the sales of fundraising party tickets. The Asahi Shimbun reported that Kishida first offered the post to former Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada, but he declined.

Ken Saito, a former Minister of Justice, succeeded Yasutoshi Nishimura, the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. Kishida also replaced the Minister for Internal Affairs and Communication, Junji Suzuki, with former Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto as well the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ichiro Miyashita, with former Minister of State for Regional Revitalization Tetsushi Sakamoto. Matsuno, Nishimura, Suzuki and Miyashita are reportedly all implicated in the slush funds scandal.

[Backgrounds of the new Cabinet Members will be the subject of the next Japan Point]

The Chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, Koichi Hagiuda, and the Chairman of the LDP Diet Affairs, Tsuyoshi Takagi, handed in their resignations on Thursday. Although Kishida had not said unequivocally that they would be replaced, these two leaders of the Abe faction nevertheless walked out. Some in the Abe faction interpreted their departures as a protest against Kishida’s focus only on the Abe faction’s wrongdoing. The Kishida and Nikai factions are also said to have distributed secret flush funds to their faction members.

One of the members of the Abe faction, State Minister of Defense Hiroyuki Miyazawa revealed on Wednesday that he had been instructed by the faction not to record money received in the political funds report and to not say anything about it. The Special Investigation Department of the Tokyo Public Prosecutor's Office will conduct further interviews with Abe faction members.

In the press conference at the closing of Diet session on Thursday, Kishida said that he regretted the doubts that had arisen about the LDP’s use of political funds. He promised reforms to restore the party’s credibility, but did not identify any specific measures. “I will make it clear based on the facts which will be confirmed later,” is all that Kishida said about the reforms. This could mean that if the criminal investigation is focused solely on the Abe faction, Kishida would have a basis for removing the Abe faction from the LDP.

This was a very unusual comment by the top LDP leader. LDP leaders have in past said that “When a scandal is revealed, the politician is responsible for explaining it for him/herself.” This time, no one in the Abe faction said anything about the scandal and has said only that the investigation is ongoing. Nevertheless, Kishida has ousted only members of the Abe faction, as if only the Abe faction violated the law. LDP members no doubtless will regard Kishida’s comments as hostile to the Abe faction.

Excluding the Abe faction does not mean that all the problems in the Kishida administration have been solved. Other factions including Kishida’s own are responsible for LDP secret money scandals as well. If someone in the LDP is eventually arrested, Kishida, as the party’s president, will not be able to escape responsibility.

It is likely that ethics in politics will be one of the hottest topics in the Diet session beginning January of next year. The Constitutional Democratic Party has established an investigation team to look into fundraising parties in preparation for debates over amendments to the Political Funds Control Act. The CDP has argued that the LDP should hand its administration over to the opposition.

What the other parties are most afraid of is an abrupt counterattack by Kishida: dissolution of the House of Representatives and a new general election. However, the Kishida administration now lacks the political power to do so. The latest Jiji poll showed that the approval rating for the Kishida Cabinet has dropped as low as 17.1 percent.“ Kishida can never have a snap election,” said the President of Komeito, Natuso Yamaguchi, in a radio interview, “because he has no cause to do it without any effort to restore public credibility on the politics.”

Other poll results on the Cabinet’s approval rating are: 16% (-5) of approval rate for the Kishida Cabinet and 17% (-7) for the LDP in Mainichi Shimbun; 22.3% (-6.0) and 26.0%(-8.1) in the Kyodo News; 23% (-2) and 23% (-4) in the Asahi Shimbun; 25%(+1) and 28% (±0) in the Yomiuri Shimbun; 26% (-4) and 30% (-4) in the Nikkei Shimbun. In the Yomiuri poll, the most popular pick for next the prime minister was Shigeru Ishiba (20%) followed by Shinjiro Koizumi (17%), and Taro Kono (12%).

Kishida may hope for a snap election before the LDP presidential election next fall.The last chance for him to dissolve the House would be sometime between the passage of the FY 2024 budget bill in March and the end of the ordinary session of the Diet in the middle of June, if the session is not extended. Although the best timing for him would be just after his state visit to United States , which is expected in April, there is no guarantee that his approval rating will improve by then or after.

A Scare for Japan Managers

by APP Washington

Prime Minister Kishida has done a bit of house cleaning, even though it was forced by the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office. The result is likely to lessen the influence of the conservative nationalists in Japan’s government. The ministers and party officials removed were among Japan’s most conservative, history denier politicians. These are also the men with whom Washington’s Japan managers had or were cultivating closer ties.

It was Prime Minister Abe and his supporters who had the government commit millions of on-and off-budget funds to public relations. The primary focus of these efforts has been to scrub clean Japan’s wartime history and re-fantasize Japanese culture, all to advance a military alliance. The Abe government coordinated with private Japanese foundations to expand support of Washington think tanks, congressional programs, and Japanese-American cultural organizations. They also encouraged the efforts by Japanese nationalist organizations such Happy Science, Worldmate (Handa), and the Unification Church to build relationships with American rightwing groups such as the American Conservative Union’s CPAC as a way to access Trump and MAGA politicians.

The demise of the conservative nationalist Abe faction and the sidelining of its supporters suggest that the era of easy funding for Washington institutions involved with Japan-focused research and cultural activities is coming to an end. The removal of the conservative nationalists from the Japanese administration may also signal a shift away from defense budget increases and increasing alignment with the U.S. on security policies. The “Alliance” may become less a subject of support and study. This all presupposes that the coming changes are as ideological as they are political.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Monday Asia Events December 18, 2023

. 12/18, 10:00-11:00am (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Hudson Institute. Speakers: John Noonan, Senior Advisor, Polaris National Security; Thomas J. Duesterberg, Senior Fellow; David Asher, Senior Fellow; Miles Yu, Senior Fellow and Director, China Center. 

POSSIBILITIES AND PERILS OF CHINA’S PRESENCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. 12/18, 10:00-11:00am (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Quincy Institute. Speakers: Yu Jie, Senior Research Fellow, China in the Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House; William Figueroa, Assistant Professor, History and Theory of International Relations, University of Groningen; Trita Parsi, Executive Vice President, Quincy Institute. 

FINNISH FOREIGN MINISTER ELINA VALTONEN ON THE FUTURE OF US-FINLAND RELATIONS. 12/18, 3:15-5:00pm (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Hudson Institute. Speakers: Luke Coffey, Senior Fellow; Elina Valtonen, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Finland. 

CREATING A SAFE, SECURE, AND HEALTHY GLOBAL NUCLEAR INDUSTRY. 12/18, 4:00-5:00pm (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: American Nuclear Society. Speakers: J'Tia Hart, Chief Science Officer, National and Homeland Security Directorate, INL; Anagha Iyengar, Deputy Program Director for Analytics and Innovation, NNSA Office of International Nuclear Security; William Tobey, former Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, NNSA. 

IN TAIWAN: TIME FOR A CHANGE? 12/18, 7:00- 8:30 pm (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Harvard University. Speakers: Lev Nachman, National Cheng-chih University; Sarah Newland, Smith College; Tsai Chia-hung, National Cheng-chih University. 

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Change Coming to Japan's Administration

Possible Power Shift in the LDP

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.
December 11, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point

The expanding money scandals in Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) factions promises a significant power shift in the party, and maybe the government. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida must replace those Cabinet and LDP board members who have been identified receiving secret money from their factions. So far, the focus has been on the Seiwa-kai (Abe faction) that has controlled the party and government since most of this century. As a result, it is expected that the Abe faction will lose its grip on Kishida administration.

Most LDP factions, however, including Kishida’s own, are not free of scandal. Although Kishida will reshuffle his Cabinet this week after the Diet session ends on the 13th, the magnitude of the scandal has yet to be determined. It is also unclear how the political damage will affect Abe-era policies.

At the beginning, the scandal looked like some mistakes of each faction in reporting about money of fundraising parties. But it entered another phase when the existence of secret money was revealed. Some factions returned the money received for fundraiser tickets to their members without disclosing them on the political funds report. Abe’s faction imposed a quota on each member for the sales of party tickets, and if a member had sold beyond the quota, the surplus was returned to the member.

The amount of money recorded on political funds report of the Abe faction was the least among five suspected factions in 2022. This faction is the largest in the LDP, and it seems implausible that they could disclose the smallest amount of money received for fundraising parties. Indeed, it strongly indicates that the Abe faction had a great amount of unrecorded secret money.

The first target of the media was Chief Cabinet Secretary (CCS) Hirokazu Matsuno. Matsuno has reportedly received about ¥10 million (approximately USD69,000) from the Abe faction as the surplus for ticket sales beyond his quota between 2018 and 2022. As the secretary general of the Abe faction between 2019 and 2021, Matsuno would certainly have known about the money coming in and going out of the faction. Nevertheless, as CCS, the spokesperson of the Kishida Cabinet, he refused to answer any questions about the secret money in a recent press conference.

Asahi Shimbun reported that other leaders of the Abe faction are suspected of having received surpluses as well. They include all of the “Five Leaders” of the Abe faction: the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry; Yasutoshi Nishimura; the Chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, Koichi Hagiuda; the Chairman of the LDP Diet Affairs Committee, Tsuyoshi Takagi; the Secretary General of the LDP Upper House Caucus, Hiroshige Seko; and the head of the Abe faction, Ryu Shionoya.

According to another news report, Prime Minister Kishida has decided to replace all of these Five Leaders. Moreover, it is possible that all the ministers from Abe faction, including State Ministers and Parliamentary Vice-ministers, will be discharged from the administration. However, it is not easy to organize an administration without any member of the biggest faction in the controlling party. Accordingly, some members of the Abe faction without deep involvement in the scandal may be staying.

The Abe faction has been exercising its power in the Kishida administration from the beginning and maintained it even after Abe died. Increases in the defense budget and Kishida’s support for a constitutional amendment would expand the military’s authority beyond self-defense have been necessary to gain the support of the Abe faction. If most or all of the Abe faction is forced out of the administration as a result of the scandal, Kishida may be able to focus on his own issues such as raising birth rate and shifting economic policy from growth to redistribution.

Yet Kishida would not have an entirely free hand and will have to balance different considerations. On the one hand, even if Kishida is successful in establishing a new administration without representatives of the Abe faction, Kishida will still need to appease the faction. Otherwise, the faction may protest against Kishida or leave LDP. On the other hand, in order to raise his already low approval rating, Kishida must make fundamental reforms in the LDP.

To assuage the public, Kishida has stepped down as the head of his own faction and ordering all the factions in the LDP to halt fundraising parties for some time. But the opposition parties have promoted a theory that the scandal is not only a violation of the Political Fund Control Act but also a tax evasion scheme. At a minimum, the LDP must be more transparent in dealing with political contributions and begin to discuss amendments to the laws governing fundraising parties.

Reforms could bring new leadership to the LDP. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made LDP reform the ultimate goal of his administration. And he was successful at it.

When Koizumi ran for president in 2001, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s administration was under the control of Heisei-ken of the Motegi faction. To limit the rule of Heisei-ken, Koizumi pursued no-faction politics, excluding any recommendations from the LDP factions when reshuffling his Cabinet and the LDP board.

In 2004, Heisei-ken’s control ended for good with the discovery of a secret donation from the Japan Dental Federation to the Heisei-ken headed by Ryutaro Hashimoto. There are several parallels between those events and the current scandal.

The 2004 scandal and the subsequent reforms enabled Koizumi to take over the political power of the factions and consolidate power to the prime minister’s faction. Only one faction survived -- the Seiwa-kai -- which Koizumi had headed just before he took office as prime minister. Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda retained the one-faction politics and were regarded as Seiwa-kai premiers. The faction’s control has lasted about two decades except when Democratic Party of Japan led the government.

By contrast with Koizumi and Abe, Kishida has had to oversee multi-faction politics and maintain a delicate balance among the factions. At first under the control of Abe’s faction, Kishida has gradually come to rely upon the factions led by Taro Aso and Toshimitsu Motegi. The current scandal is an opportunity for Kishida rid his administration of the influence of Seiwa-kai. It will be fatal if these money scandals are found to spread beyond the Abe faction.

Internal LDP politics and scandals aside, Kishida is facing his own challenges. He has been unable to explain his meeting with the leaders of organizations closely related to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (the Moonies). Asahi Shimbun reported that the leaders of Unification Church’s United States Branch, Michael Jenkins, and of the Japan branch of Universal Peace Federation, Masayoshi Kajikuri, met with Kishida and former Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. The mishandling of an explanation will be fatal to the Kishida administration.

Thus, although Kishida is likely to succeed in eliminating the influence of the biggest faction in the LDP, he must show the public a new version of LDP politics, and himself.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Mondy Asia Events December 11, 2023

THE ISRAELI-HAMAS WAR: INTELLIGENCE, STRATEGY AND THE DAY AFTER. 12/11, 9:00-10:00am (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Carnegie. Speakers: Efraim Halevy, former director, Mossad; Admiral (ret). Ami Ayalon, former director, Israeli Security Agency; Aaron David Miller, senior fellow, Carnegie. 

THE ROK-U.S. ALLIANCE AT 70: EXPANDING DIPLOMATIC HORIZONS THROUGH PUBLIC DIPLOMACY. 12/11, 10:00-11:30am (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Korea Economic Institute (KEI). Speakers: H.E. Hyundong Cho, Ambassador, Republic of Korea to the U.S.A; Amb. Yuri Kim, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Amb. Donald Heflin, Executive Director, Edward R. Murrow Center for Global Diplomacy; Amb. Maureen Cormack, Former U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Former U.S. Embassy, Seoul Spokesperson; Amb. Jie-ae Sohn, ROK Ambassador for Cultural Cooperation. 

5G/6G TECHNOLOGY AND THE FUTURE OF GLOBAL SECURITY. 12/11, Noon-1:00pm (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Brendan Carr, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission; Keith Krach, Founder, Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy; Roslyn Layton, Senior Vice President, Strand Consult, Advisor, Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy; Clete Johnson, CSIS Senior Fellow. 

BEYOND THE SCIF: COUNTERING CHINESE INFLUENCE OPERATIONS ON AMERICAN SOIL. 12/11, 12:30:1:30pm (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Hudson Institute. Speakers: John P. Walters, President and CEO; Miles Yu, Senior Fellow and Director, China Center; John Lee, Senior Fellow; Craig Singleton, China Program Deputy Director, Senior Fellow, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

BOOK EVENT| SUHARTO'S COLD WAR: INDONESIA, SOUTHEAST ASIA, AND THE WORLD. 12/11, 4:00-5:30pm (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Wilson Center. Speakers: Mattias Fibiger, Assistant Professor of Business Administration in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit, Harvard Business School; Su Lin Lewis, Associate Professor in Modern Global History, University of Bristol; Bradley Simpson, Public Policy Scholar, Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies, University of Connecticut. 

BOOK EVENT| *HUMAN-CENTERED ECONOMICS: THE LIVING STANDARDS OF NATIONS. 12/11, 5:00-6:00pm (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: CSIS. Speaker: author Richard Samans, Director, Research Department, International Labour Organization (ILO). PURCHASE BOOK:

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Why Kishida is Changing His Cabinet

Faction Scandals Shake Kishida’s Administration

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.
December 2, 2023. Special to Asia Policy Point

“When three people get together, they make a faction. A faction is natural community in a society, and not so bad.” This has been the justification for the factions within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), particularly when they compete on political or money issues. Acting as an umbrella organization, the LDP can criticize any particular faction that goes rogue. However, the latest scandal, which concerns violations of the Political Funds Control Act, involves all the factions within the LDP and leaves the party with no opportunity to discipline a particular faction.

The Special Investigation Division of Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office has been investigating whether the LDP’s five major factions failed to report their income through fundraising parties between 2018 and 2021. The factions are the Seiwa-kai (Abe faction), Shisui-kai (Nikai faction), Heisei-ken (Motegi Group), Shiko-kai (Aso faction) and Kochi-kai (Kishida faction). As the president of LDP, Kishida urged each faction, including his own, to file corrected reports.

The Japan Communist Party’s Akahata Shimbun first broke this story in November 2022. Akahata reported that the five major LDP factions concealed their income, totaling about ¥25 million. A law professor at Kobe Gakuin University, Hiroshi Kamiwaki, thereafter, submitted allegations to the prosecutor’s office, arguing that the hidden income of would amount about ¥40 million between 2018 and 2021. Unreported income was also accumulated in 2022.

On the basis of the submission, the special investigation office began the investigation of the five factions, interviewing the officers of each faction.

The Political Funds Control Act requires each political organization, including each faction in the LDP, to report the names of buyers of tickets to party functions and the amount, when the sales to a buyer exceed ¥200 thousand. All of the LDP factions allegedly failed to report significant purchases: ¥19 million by the Abe faction, ¥9 million by the Nikai faction, ¥6 million by the Motegi faction, ¥4 million by the Aso faction, and ¥2 million by the Kishida faction.

In the discussion at the Committee on Budget of the House of Representatives, the head of the Constitutional Democratic Party, Kenta Izumi, asked Prime Minister Kishida what he knew about the scandal. “It was reported that there were some mishandlings on the political funding reports and they are in the process of correction,” said Kishida.

Kishida did not seem to have realized that there are serious doubts about his compliance with the law since he remains in charge of his faction. Prime ministers typically leave their factions when they take office in order to show some semblance of impartiality. But Kishida did not take this route and has continued at the head of his faction. He thus cannot escape responsibility for the operations of his faction, as previous prime ministers might have done.

News reports are now focusing on the use of the hidden money. The Abe faction is suspected of distributing the money to its member lawmakers. Distributions allegedly ranged from one hundred to several hundred million between 2018 and 2022.

The distributions would have arisen from ticket sales to the annual fundraising parties of the factions. Historically, these parties are subject to fewer regulations than direct contributions. Ticket sales of less than ¥200 thousand for a person do not have to be reported. The host of a party can receive all the proceeds of ticket sales after catering room fees have been paid.

The Abe faction imposes a quota of ticket sales each member, depending on the selling capacity of each member. The tickets are priced at ¥20 thousand each. The buyers are usually the business owners. Proceeds of the sales go to the faction. If the amount of sales for one buyer exceeds ¥200 thousand it should be recorded in the faction’s political fund report.

So, what happens when a member exceeds his or her quota? The Abe faction is suspected returning the surplus to the member without reporting it. The more tickets a member sells, the more he/she will be rewarded. The member can use the money in his or her own election campaign. It will be secret money free from any regulation. The return of funds to a member has been referred to as a “kickback” scheme

The chairman of the Abe faction, Ryu Shionoya, has admitted that the faction had been sending back the surplus to each member. But he later retreated, saying that he had not confirmed the facts. Two former secretaries general of the Abe faction, who are in the Kishida Cabinet, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno and Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yasutoshi Nishimuira, did not directly answer a question about the secret money of a kickback arrangement in their press conferences. The prosecutors are investigating whether the same kickback system exists in other factions.

This latest scandal casts some doubt over the future of factions. While the factions take the form of policy study groups, they in fact work essentially to support the political activities of their members. When one lawmaker holds a fundraising party, colleagues of the same faction will attend and make speeches that praise the host politician and urge the audience to support him/her. The factions promote their candidates for the presidency, and the president usually becomes prime minister. This is a typical and traditional style of politics in LDP.

It is undeniable that this kind of politics is becoming obsolete. Old-time factions have been under the strong leadership of big bosses who could collect a great amount of money, but this system can no longer survive changes in the vehicles for politics and money raising. Lawmakers now have various methods of fundraising or communicating each other through internet.

As seen in the selection of ministers in the cabinet reshuffle in September, the Kishida administration is dependent on the balance of increasingly outmoded factions. That selection caused the consecutive resignations of several State Ministers or Parliamentary Vice-minister, contributing to a decline in the Kishida Administration’s approval rating. Kishida must realize the latest scandals will upset the balance on which his administration relies.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Kishida In The Danger Zone

Fading confidence in Kishida

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 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.

Asia Events Monday December 4, 2023

75 YEARS OF HUMAN RIGHTS. 12/4, 9:30am-Noon (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor:  Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Speakers Include: Navanethem Pillay, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Kevin Cassidy, Former Director and Representative to the Bretton Woods and Multilateral Organizations for the International Labour Organization Office for the United States; Nina Gardner, Adjunct Professor, SAIS, Director, Strategy International. 

JAPAN, CHINA, AND GLOBAL ECONOMIC ORDERS. 12/4, Noon-1:15pm (EST), HYBRID. Sponsor: Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard. Speakers: Tsuyoshi Kawase, Visiting Scholar, Program on US-Japan Relations, Harvard University; Professor, Sophia University; Ji Miao, Visiting Scholar, Program on US-Japan Relations, Harvard University; Associate Professor & Senior Research Fellow, China Foreign Affairs University; Masako Suginohara, Visiting Scholar, Program on US-Japan Relations, Harvard University; Professor, Ferris University. 

A STRATEGY TO ADDRESS JAPAN'S DECLINING FERTILITY RATE. 12/4, 12:45-1:45pm (EST), IN PERSON ONLY. Sponsor: Columbia Business School. Speaker: Randall S. Jones, Research Associate, Center on Japanese Economy, and Business (CJEB), Columbia Business School, Adjunct Professor, Johns Hopkins University (SAIS), Former Senior Counselor, East Asia and Head of Japan/Korea Desk, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). 

NORTH KOREAN HUMAN RIGHTS: CHALLENGES TO DEMOCRACY. 12/4, 1:30-7:30pm (HST), IN PERSON ONLY. Sponsors: Pacific Forum International, PUAC Global Strategy Committee, East-West Center, Consulate General of Republic of Korea in Honolulu, PUAC Hawaii Chapter. Speakers Include: Shin-Wha Lee, ROK Amb. for International Cooperation on N.K. Human Rights; Julie Turner, United States Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights; Suzanne Vares-Lum, President, East-West Center; Morse H. Tan, Dean, School of Law, Liberty University; Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of the Committee for HRNK. 

RECALIBRATING GROWTH FOR DEVELOPMENT ACROSS ASIA. 12/4, 2:30-3:30pm (EST), HYBRID. Sponsors: Wilson Center; UNDP. Speaker: Kanni Wignaraja, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. 

HOW TO GROW A NAVY: BOOK TALK WITH PROFESSOR GEOFFREY TILL. 12/4, 3:30-4:30pm (JST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies (YCAPS). Speaker: Author Geoffrey Till, Naval historian, Emeritus Professor of Maritime Studies, King’s College London. 

BOOK EVENT| FORGOTTEN WARRIORS: THE LONG HISTORY OF WOMEN IN COMBAT. 12/4, 4:00-5:00pm (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Wilson Center. Speaker: author Sarah Percy, Associate Professor of International Relations, University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. 

PASTS OF THE PRESENT: ICONICITY AND AUTHENTICATION AT TWO RECONSTRUCTED HERITAGE SITES IN JAPAN. 12/4, 6:00-8:00pm (JST) 4:00-6:00am (EST), VIRTUAL. Sponsor: Institut français de recherche sur le Japon à la Maison franco-japonaise. Speaker: Jens SEJRUP, Assistant Professor, Japanese Studies at the University of Copenhagen.