TOKYO (Kyodo) – Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, whose ruling coalition, according to media polls, is set to remain in power in Sunday’s legislative elections, appears poised to differentiate himself from his predecessor Yoshihide Suga in order to avoid quickly follow him out of office.
So far, Kishida has apparently not made the same mistake as Suga on the communication front.
After taking office in early October, Kishida pledged to listen to people’s voices and held talks with business leaders and others during the election campaign, apparently to contrast with Suga, who been criticized for being out of touch with public opinion in the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“It is obvious that Mr. Kishida has better communication skills than Mr. Suga. But people have yet to see the details of his policy as his term has just started,” said Koji Nakakita, professor of Japanese politics. at Hitotsubashi University.
Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe was in power for nearly eight years, making him the longest-serving prime minister. Suga, who was Abe’s chief cabinet secretary, took over but ultimately only served for a year.
After being elected prime minister on October 4, Kishida quickly dissolved the House of Representatives, the powerful lower house of parliament, for an election to seek a public mandate to remain in power.
While the election will decide whether the government is led by Kishida’s Liberal Democrats or the opposition, it also offers voters the chance to give their verdict on the Suga and Abe governments, and their ‘one-way communication’. “.
Mr. Abe returned to power (in 2012) after previous governments struggled to make decisions. He formed a government that could decide, but it also became a government that did not offer ‘explanations to the people,’ said Masahiro Iwasaki, professor. of Japanese politics at Nihon University.
“This style has also been adopted by Suga,” said Iwasaki. “Now voters want a government that explains.”
Abe got bogged down in patronage scandals following the government’s discounted sale of state land to Moritomo Gakuen, a school operator linked to his wife Akie, and the decision to approve the construction of a veterinary school as part of the Kake Educational Institution run by a friend.
Abe resigned in September last year for health reasons, after his responses to the allegations failed to convince opposition parties and critics.
Suga, for his part, declined to explain his decision last year not to approve six candidates for Japan’s Science Council who had previously spoken out against government policies, a move critics said was motivated by considerations. policies and an attack on the independence of the advisory group.
After being criticized for repeatedly declaring a state of emergency for COVID-19, he drew fire after saying in August: “We are starting to see the light” in the coronavirus situation, at a time when many COVID-19 patients were forced to recover at home as hospitals in Japan had reached their limits.
Suga resigned before he could benefit from his government’s vaccination campaign, which has seen around 70% of the population fully vaccinated and a significant drop in coronavirus cases.
“Mr. Suga was sorely lacking in the ability to speak words that resonate with people,” Nakakita said.
Such a capacity was not essential in putting pressure on bureaucrats to facilitate vaccinations, but it was crucial in changing the behavior of people to avoid crowded places and eat in restaurants to curb the spread of COVID-19, he added.
During the election campaign, Kishida held talks with business leaders and others in a “symbolic move to show that he listens to people and that he will not take a top-down approach,” according to Iwasaki .
“If he can continue this from now on will be the key to increasing his approval rating,” Iwasaki said.
Politically, Nakakita said it is important for Kishida not only to prepare the country for a possible sixth wave of coronavirus infections, but also to strengthen the medical system in the longer term and create a mechanism for it. rapid provision of financial support to those in need.
As the pandemic shed light on the slowness of cash distributions last year due to the different processing systems of local governments, Kishida is expected to continue the digitization of various administrative services as part of the Digital Agency. launched by the Suga government in September.
Kishida has promised a course correction in Abenomics, the policy mix under Abe of bold monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reform. The economic policies, also employed by Suga, boosted the income of the cooperatives but did not lead to an increase in wages.
Instead, Kishida proposed a “new capitalism” that places more emphasis on the distribution of wealth.
But he appears to retain many of Abe and Suga’s foreign and security policies that called for strengthening Japan’s alliance with the United States in the pursuit of a free and open Indo-Pacific to counter perceived attempts. of China to change the status quo in the region.
Like his predecessors, Kishida, who served as foreign minister under Abe, sees the Quad security framework involving Australia, India, Japan and the United States as valuable in maintaining a rules-based international order.