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Japan PM Kishida unable to draw up re-election strategy

Opposition parties, for their part, have failed to show their presence although they stand to benefit from the increasing public criticism of the LDP. (AFP)
Opposition parties, for their part, have failed to show their presence although they stand to benefit from the increasing public criticism of the LDP. (AFP)
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01 Jan 2024 03:01:57 GMT9
01 Jan 2024 03:01:57 GMT9

Tokyo: Beleaguered Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida remains unable to draw up a strategy for ensuring his re-election as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party amid slumping cabinet approval ratings.

The biggest focus of the political situation this year is whether Kishida can rebuild his administration, buffeted by a slush fund scandal at LDP factions, as he seeks re-election in the LDP presidential race in autumn.

Opposition parties, for their part, have failed to show their presence although they stand to benefit from the increasing public criticism of the LDP.

A veteran LDP member called the opposition side “a weak bunch of many,” saying that the Kishida administration “is being helped” by their weakness.

Political Reform Holds Key

“First of all, we will work to regain trust in politics. All we do now is to focus on that, and I’m not thinking about anything beyond that,” Kishida said in a conference in Tokyo when asked about the possibility of dissolving the House of Representatives, the all-important lower chamber of the Diet, the country’s parliament, for a snap election.

From the beginning of 2024, Kishida plans to work on political reform.

He will announce a basic policy on the matter at a press conference Thursday. His LDP will set up a new organization for political reform soon to start discussions on specific measures.

Kishida has already talked about the need to make incomes from fundraising parties transparent and the possibility of revising the political funds control law.

As criminal probes into the scandal progress, opposition parties are expected to step up their attacks against the LDP during the ordinary Diet session to be convened in late January.

The first test for Kishida this year would be to what extent he can exercise his leadership in getting at the truth of the scandal and working out measures to prevent a recurrence.

Kishida apparently aims to use economic and diplomatic events to rebuild his administration.

In “shunto” labor-management pay negotiations, which will peak in March, moves to hike wages are expected to accelerate. Kishida hopes that the raises would create “synergy effects” with the planned individual income and residential tax cuts to be implemented in June.

“The atmosphere will change around June,” said a source at the prime minister’s office.

People around Kishida also expect that his administration will get a boost from his planned visit to the United States, in which he will be treated as a state guest, around early March.

Call for Kishida’s Resignation

In April, a Lower House by-election is set to take place in Shimane Prefecture’s No. 1 constituency following the death of former Lower House Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda. More Lower House seats may be vacated for by-elections, depending on the progress in the investigations into the LDP scandal.

The mood for national elections is likely to intensify in the second half of 2024. In July, it will be one year before the next election for the House of Councillors, the upper chamber. Come October, the remaining term of the Lower House members will be one year.

Kishida previously considered a strategy of winning the next general election by dissolving the Lower House before the opposition parties become ready, thinking that such a victory would earn him re-election as LDP president.

However, the tax cuts he came up with have proved unpopular with the public. Subsequently, the LDP funds scandal broke. The situation no longer allows Kishida to employ the strategy.

Public support ratings for Kishida’s cabinet have fallen to around 20 pct in media opinion polls, sinking into what analysts call the critical zone.

“We are not in a situation where we can fight in a Lower House election,” an LDP member said.

If party lawmakers turn rebellious, Kishida could be forced to step down before his term as president expires in September. Former Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba recently said that the Kishida cabinet has the option of resigning en masse after the Diet passes the fiscal 2024 budget.

Weak Opposition Parties

The slush fund scandal is often compared with the so-called Recruit Co. stock-for-favors scandal of the late 1980s, which forced many politicians to quit. Some LDP members are worried that the current scandal may cause their party to lose power for the third time.

However, opposition parties remain divided even in this situation favorable to them. It cannot be said that the opposition camp has presented to voters an attractive alternative to the LDP.

The discord partly stems from the unstable stance of Kenta Izumi, president of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

In May 2023, Izumi declared that he would not cooperate with either Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) or the Japanese Communist Party in elections. But in October, he agreed to work with the JCP in the next Lower House election.

At the end of the year, he talked about the idea of forming a coalition government with Nippon Ishin and the Democratic Party for the People.

A JCP executive criticized Izumi’s unstable attitude, while an Ishin executive flatly rejected the idea.

This year, Izumi will see his term as the CDP’s leader expire in September just like Kishida.

Ishin also suffers from problems.

The party quickly expanded its presence in and outside its home base in the Kansai western region, as it aims to replace the CDP as the biggest opposition force in the next Lower House election.

But it is losing its momentum due to rising public criticism over the soaring costs for the 2025 World Exposition in Osaka, strongly pushed by the party, and a series of scandals involving party members.

JIJI Press

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