TOKYO – Fumio Kishida is set to be reelected as Japan’s prime minister Wednesday after clearing the first major test of his leadership in recent elections.
Elected just over a month ago by parliament, Kishida called a quick election where he secured enough seats in 465-member lower house — the more powerful of Japan’s two-chamber Diet — to maintain a free hand in pushing legislation through parliament. He sees the Oct. 31 victory as a mandate from voters for his weeks-old government to tackle the pandemic-battered economy, virus measures and other challenges.
In the first session of parliament since the election, Kishida is to be reelected and then will form his second Cabinet in a month by reappointing most of his ministers.
In a formality earlier Wednesday, Kishida’s first Cabinet resigned en masse.
Kishida had been chosen by the Liberal Democrats as a safe, conservative choice a month ago. They had feared heavy election losses if the unpopular Yoshihide Suga had stayed in power. Suga resigned after only a year in office as his popularity plunged over criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his insistence on holding the Tokyo Olympics despite concerns of a virus surge.
Experts say Kishida’s victory showed Japanese voters chose stability over change, even though many were not necessarily supporting the governing party’s ultra-conservative policies and high-handed approach. He also was helped by a botched united front of opposition parties that turned off many of their traditional supporters because of the inclusion of the leftist Japanese Communist Party.
The better-than-expected election results may give Kishida's government more power and time to work on campaign promises, including COVID-19 control, economic revitalization and strengthening Japan’s defense capability.
Kishida's power also may be strengthened by his Cabinet changes. A key policy expert from his party faction, former education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, will be the new foreign minister, while former Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi shifts to the governing party's No. 2 post.
Motegi voted for Kishida in the party leadership race and will replace party heavyweight Akira Amari, who resigned from the post over his unimpressive election outcome due to his past bribery scandal.
Kishida promises to create a reinforcing cycle of growth and improved economic distribution to raise incomes under his “new capitalism” economic policy.
As a former foreign minister, Kishida will continue to prioritize the Japan-U.S. security alliance and promote a vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” with other democracies, including Quad dialogue members the U.S., Australia and India.
Kishida stresses the importance of a stronger military amid worries over China’s growing power and influence and North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats.
He has opposed changes to a law that requires married couples to adopt a single surname, which forces most women to abandon their maiden names. The Liberal Democrats are widely seen as opposed to gender equality and diversity.