The Oasis Reporters
September 30, 2021
By Colm Quinn
Japan’s ruling Liberal Democrat Party has backed Fumio Kishida as its new leader, effectively making him prime minister-in-waiting for the world’s third largest economy.
Kishida, a former foreign minister, won out in a highly contested election, beating Taro Kono in a runoff vote on Wednesday afternoon in Tokyo after the two had virtually tied in the first round of voting. His inauguration as prime minister is now assured, as the LDP holds a comfortable majority in Japan’s House of Representatives.
The vote comes just over a year after Yoshihide Suga rose to the pinnacle of the party following Shinzo Abe’s resignation. Suga announced his plans to step down earlier this month as his cabinet’s sinking approval rating risked damaging the party in upcoming elections.
Suga’s experience is a cautionary tale for Kishida: After a strong start, perception of Suga’s government steadily soured, driven by public anger over the hosting of the Tokyo Olympics and a surge in coronavirus cases.
Party power. Kishida’s rise comes at the expense of Kono, who had been the popular favorite in opinion polls. Although Kono won over the party’s rank and file in today’s contest, Kishida ultimately benefited from LDP party rules favoring elected members in the event of a runoff.
Kishida’s challenges. Although likely to pursue similar economic policies to his predecessors, Kishida is thought to be more moderate than some in his party when it comes to China, and said that he would consider meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. His first challenges will be domestic, however, dealing with the country’s coronavirus epidemic and leading the LDP into new parliamentary elections, expected to take place in November.
Kono’s comeback? Although today’s vote represents the end of Kono’s leadership bid for now, Suga’s experience, and the short shelf life of Japan’s prime ministers in general (Kishida will be the tenth in the past 20 years) means that it’s unlikely he’ll fade into the background.
Speaking to Foreign Policy before the vote Kristi Govella, a Japan expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said a loss could yet be a blessing in disguise for the popular minister, considering the scale of the task ahead of Kishida. “It’s possible that Kono could very well find himself a front runner in another LDP leadership race a year from now and under more favorable conditions.”
Courtesy: Foreign Policy