Friday, September 30, 2022

Japan’s next PM must act fast on virus, economy, China

TOKYO (WNN) – The stakes are high as members of the ruling party in Japan voted on Wednesday for four candidates seeking to replace Yoshihide Suga as prime minister. The next leader must address a pandemic-battered economy, a newly-powered military operating in a dangerous neighborhood, an internally-focused ally, critical ties with Washington, and a tense security standoff with an upbeat China and its ally North Korea.

For the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which often chooses its leaders in backroom talks, this election promises to be wide open. Because of the party’s control over the parliament, its leader would become the prime minister.

Observers say whoever wins, the party desperately needs new ideas to quickly turn public support ahead of elections to the lower house, due within two months.

Unusually, two women – the conservative Sane Takachi and the more liberal Seiko Noda – are competing against front-runner Taro Kono, the Minister of Vaccinations and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

Takaichi, Suga’s predecessor, has grown rapidly, with significant support from former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose conservative vision and revisionist stance she supports, while Noda’s prospects are fading.

Political watchers say Abe’s endorsement of Takachi may be an attempt to improve the party’s sexist image and divert votes from Kono, who is considered a vagabond and reformist.

Yu Uchiyama, a professor of political science at the University of Tokyo, said minor changes in key diplomatic and security policies are expected under the new leader.

All candidates support Japan-US security ties and partnerships with other like-minded democracies in Asia and Europe, as a way of countering China’s growing influence.

Kono and Kishida are former top diplomats. He and Noda have stressed the need for dialogue with China as an important neighbor and trade partner. All four candidates support maintaining close “practical ties” with Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims, and its intention to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bloc and other international organizations.

In a series of policy debates, the four candidates discussed diplomacy, economy, energy and defense issues, but also gender equality and sexual diversity, which the male-dominated Conservative Party has rarely discussed in the past. Be.

Ryosuke Nishida, professor of sociology and public policy at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, said the inclusion of gender and diversity signals that the party knows it cannot ignore issues.

Takachi alone opposes changing the law that forces married couples to use only one surname—almost always that of the husband. She has also vowed to make an official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors World War II dead, including war criminals, and is considered by many in China and Korea as evidence of Japan’s lack of remorse over its wartime actions. Is.

Other candidates are likely to refrain from visiting Yasukuni because of declining ties with China and South Korea.

Support for Suga’s government stemmed from his insistence on handling the coronavirus and hosting the Tokyo Olympics during the pandemic. Part of the loss of his support has been linked by analysts to the party’s complacency and an increasingly high-level approach during Abe’s long years of leadership.

Wednesday’s vote is being seen as a test of whether the party can get out of Abe’s shadow. Experts say that his influence in the affairs of the government and the party has largely stifled diverse views and shifted the party to the right.

“The state of democracy in Japan is at stake, and if or how the new leader is willing to listen to the voices of the people and take them into account politically,” Uchiyama said. “Prime Minister Suga clearly had problems communicating with people and did not provide accountability.”

Unlike the previous vote, when Suga was chosen largely by party leaders, Wednesday’s vote is more unpredictable, with most factions allowing free voting by their member lawmakers, a rare move for the party.

Many ordinary voters are watching the party vote, and the party’s MPs are paying close attention to public opinion on whether to be re-elected in the upcoming parliamentary election.

The party’s vote could end an era of unusual political stability – despite corruption scandals and strained security ties with China and Korea – and bring a return to Japan’s “revolving door” leadership by short-lived prime ministers, starting with Suga. Is.

Suga is leaving only a year after taking office as a pinch hitter for Abe, who abruptly resigned over health problems, ending his nearly eight-year leadership, the longest in Japan’s constitutional history. Was.

Support ratings for Suga and his government have recovered slightly since his resignation was announced in early September, when the virus infection also began to slow. The number of new daily cases fell to 2,129 on Sunday, a tenth of the mid-August level. Japan has recorded nearly 1.69 million cases and 17,500 deaths.

The very sharp drop in cases is attributable to the progress of vaccination; About 56% of the country has now been fully vaccinated.

The government is expected to lift a month-long coronavirus emergency on September 30, and people are expected to return to their daily lives. Meanwhile, opposition parties have not been able to position themselves as vehicles for viable change.

“Many people respond to issues that directly affect their daily lives but pay little attention to political considerations and issues such as national security,” Nishida said. “Once the infection slows down, the virus scare will quickly fade and even the Olympics will be remembered favorably.”

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Nation World News Desk
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