Japan’s Kishida Appointed Prime Minister, Calls Oct. 31 Election
(Bloomberg) -- Japan’s Fumio Kishida was appointed prime minister by parliament Monday, and named a new cabinet stacked with political veterans as he seeks support for his ruling party ahead of a general election set for the end of this month.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party used its majority to formally elect Kishida, who will be the second premier in about a year. Within hours of taking the post, he called for a general election on Oct. 31 that could mark the tone for his tenure, which is set to be tested again through an upper house vote due next year.
“Growth remains an important theme of my policies,” Kishida said at his first formal news conference after taking office. “But if the fruits of that growth aren’t distributed properly, consumption and demand won’t grow.”
He added he would set up a “new capitalism” panel to lay out a vision for the economy, and policies for distributing income would include a review of taxes on investment income, as well as tax benefits for companies that raise pay. Cash handouts for individuals whose livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic and a review aimed at raising pay for nurses and caregivers are also on the menu, he added.
Kishida, who has conceded some see him as boring, was not the public’s top choice for the job and now he must try to win over voters who had become frustrated with the government’s coronavirus policies. Due to the LDP’s powerful political machine, its ruling coalition is all but certain to retain a parliamentary majority, but any major gains by the opposition could hobble Kishida from the start, and increase the odds he joins a long list of short-serving premiers.
While none of the opposition parties have support of more than single figures, they plan to work together in many constituencies to chip away at the ruling coalition’s majority in the election.
After pledging to appoint younger lawmakers, Kishida removed 81-year-old Finance Minister Taro Aso from his post, replacing him with former Olympics Minister Shunichi Suzuki, 68.
The son of a former premier, Suzuki belongs to a political faction headed by Aso and is also the out-going finance chief’s brother-in-law. He’s seen keeping the fiscal policies of recent years and continuing to support the Bank of Japan’s bond-buying and ultra-low interest-rates, although there is speculation he might be susceptible to pressure to spend more.
Kishida won the LDP leadership race last week over three opponents, including former vaccine czar Taro Kono, who was the public’s top choice for prime minister. Kishida’s new team will need to help revive the pandemic-hit economy and find a way to balance ties between China, the country’s biggest trade partner and the U.S., its only treaty ally.
The new premier said he was unsure whether China can meet the standards to join an Asia-Pacific trade pact known officially as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. China has applied to join the trade pact once pushed by the U.S. as a way to isolate Beijing and solidify American dominance in the region.
The timing of the election may affect Kishida’s plans for a debut on the world stage. He said he planned to take part in the G-20 meeting in Italy and the COP26 climate summit in the U.K. remotely.
The Hiroshima native said he would work to achieve a world without nuclear weapons and he’s prepared to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions -- reiterating a Pyongyang policy held by his predecessors.
Kishida established a new position of minister for economic security as the country seeks to bolster its semiconductor industry.
In a good sign for Kishida, data last week showed confidence among big Japanese businesses unexpectedly improved for a fifth straight quarter, defying a record wave of coronavirus infections and suggesting a potentially faster recovery under the nation’s new prime minister. Virus infections have tumbled over the past few weeks, and the lifting of a state of emergency means a likely boost for bars, restaurants and the travel industry.
The male-dominated LDP has struggled for years with gender equality and Kishida appointed three women to his 20-member cabinet. The highest-profile spots have been allocated to men, with Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi keeping their jobs.
One barrier to appointing more women as ministers is the dearth of female candidates in the party as a whole. About 10% of lower house lawmakers are women, while among LDP representatives the figure is less than 8%.
Support for the long-dominant LDP had sagged under outgoing premier Yoshihide Suga, amid criticism of his handling of the coronavirus, and began to rise after he announced he would step down after about a year in the post.
“I want to introduce big and bold virus policies and economic policies as soon I can,” Kishida said. “If possible, I want to drive politics with the people’s trust behind me. I decided to hold a general election as early as possible.”
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