Fumiko Kishida will become Japan’s next prime minister after a dramatic victory today in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership vote.
He will be Japan’s third prime minister in more than a year, replacing the hugely unpopular Yoshihide Suga, whose fortunes began to decline last September after following Shinzo Abe to the prime minister’s office.
In a surprise result, Kishida, a former foreign minister, defeated his main rival, the popular vaccine minister, Taro Kono, 256–255 in a first round of voting by party members. Meanwhile, two female candidates, the ultra-nationalist Sane Takachi and the moderate Seiko Noda, were dropped.
In the second round of voting, which is dominated by members of the LDP in the Diet (Japan’s parliament), Takachi’s supporters, backed by Abe, threw their weight behind Kishida and secured his election.
Kishida’s rise through the ranks
Soumya Kishida, 64, comes from a family of parliamentarians – both her grandfather and father were members of the Diet.
As a child, Kishida spent three years in New York when his father was posted as a senior trade ministry official in the US, where he attended public school in Queens. After graduating from the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo, Kishida had a short stint in banking before becoming a member of the House of Representatives in 1993.
As Japan’s longest-serving, post-war Secretary of State in Abe’s government from 2012–17, Kishida helped arrange US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in 2016 .
Despite representing Hiroshima in parliament, he defended Japan’s policy of staying out of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, citing the need to rely on expanded nuclear deterrence from Japan’s ally, the US.
After replacing Kono as foreign minister, Kishida was briefly defense minister, and then took over as LDP policy chief.
As the leader of one of the powerful factions of the LDP that was crucial to his victory in the leadership vote, Kishida is considered more capable of building consensus than the headstrong Kono.
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Unlike Kono and his equally Spartan predecessors Abe and Suga, Kishida enjoys a drink, having once allegedly challenged Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to a vodka and sake drinking contest.
Critics say Kishida is too indecisive, which may leave him open to influence from party faction chiefs, especially Abe’s more radical nationalist group.
This could result in changing Japan’s constitution to allow for a more belligerent defense policy and further delay gender equality reforms, which would be against majority public opinion.
Where does Kishida stand on key issues?
Kishida would be designated as the 100th Prime Minister of Japan by a special session of the Diet on October 4, and then formally appointed by Emperor Naruhito.
After this, he is expected to announce his new cabinet. Several party stalwarts, such as Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Abe’s younger brother Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, are likely to remain.
With only two women in the outgoing Suga cabinet, Takachi and Noda may also be returned to the cabinet to promote gender equality. Kono will also be kept in the cabinet to keep his ambitions under control.
Kishida would then immediately lead his party to a national election, which should take place before November 28.
Assuming the LDP retains power, which is highly expected, Kishida will face the challenge of completing Japan’s much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccination rollout and then Japan’s recovery from the pandemic.
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During his leadership campaign, Kishida pledged to spend tens of trillions of yen to stimulate the economy, prioritizing low-income, struggling regional areas and the tourism industry. This would take Japan ahead of Abe’s neo-liberal economic policies – nicknamed “Abenomics” – which further worsened income inequality in society.
Despite Japan’s commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, Kishida has supported restarting the country’s inactive nuclear reactors, investing in smaller modular reactors and fusion technology to do so.
Although Kono took the surprising step of coming out in support of same-sex marriage during the campaign, Kishida remains non-committal to the issue.
He also does not support female royal succession, but he does support changing the law to allow women to keep their own family names after marriage.
As a member of the nationalist lobby group Nippon Kaigi, Kishida says he would “consider” visiting the controversial Yasukuni shrine dedicated to those killed in Japan’s war, even if it angered neighboring China and South Korea.
How about foreign affairs?
In foreign affairs, little is likely to change. Kishida will likely continue Japan’s promotion of the Quad – a security group made up of Japan, the US, Australia and India – and may even adopt Kono’s proposal to develop nuclear-powered submarines.
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Japan may also want to join the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, which is one of Kono’s suggestions.
Kishida will continue to promote Japan’s self-defense forces, including developing long-range missiles to counter Chinese incursions into the East China Sea. He also supports Taiwan’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – a major trade agreement in which China also seeks to join.
However, Kishida regards maintaining stable relations with Beijing as a priority, as China remains Japan’s largest trading partner.
Does the opposition have a shot at the election?
Even though the LDP is favored to win the national election, promotion of Kishida as prime minister would give a little more hope to the opposition parties, who were feared to campaign against the high-profile Kono.
The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party reached an agreement with the Japanese Communist Party and two other smaller parties that they would not run against each other in order to maximize the chances of ousting marginal LDP members.
This coalition is still unlikely to defeat the LDP, but it could be enough to substantially reduce its current two-thirds majority in parliament (which it enjoys with its coalition partner, Komito).
In the meantime, Kono is certainly ready to spend his time and develop his already prominent profile for another attempt at the party leadership to be held in three years.
That is, until Kishida succumbs to one of the LDP’s frequent political scandals, or, like Suga, fails the policy so badly that she resigns early, keeping the revolving door of the leaders open. is inspired to.