Kishida Fumio: Japan’s 100th Prime Minister

Kishida hits the ground running . . . 

Last week, Kishida Fumio beat three other candidates to lead Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) following former Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s resignation as the party’s head. On Monday, both houses of the Japanese Diet (parliament) voted him the new leader of the world’s third-largest economy. PM Kishida hit the ground running by quickly announcing a new cabinet, hinting that Japan will continue to advance its view of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific,’ and suggesting that China will not be able to meet the high standards to join the CPTPP trade deal. After only a few hours in the post, he called a snap general election for October 31. Kishida’s cabinet is starting with a 59 per cent approval rating, the third-lowest inaugural rating.

Who is Kishida?

Kishida was foreign minister from 2012 to 2017 under former PM Abe Shinzō, making him the longest continuous serving Japanese foreign minister in postwar history. While the FM post provides requisite skills for a prospective prime minister, it has less influence on intra-party and faction politics, a critical feature of the LDP, and one reason he previously hadn’t headed the party. During Kishida's leadership bid last month, he eventually gained the support of former PM Abe, who maintains significant sway within the most influential LDP factions. Suga’s resignation after one year in the top job led pundits to wonder if Japan had returned to an era of revolving-door prime ministers. Of Japan’s 20 prime ministers (including Kishida) since 1987, only two have served three years or longer.

Shift toward moderate liberal or more of the same?

Kishida is a moderate-liberal within a party otherwise dominated by rightwing and conservative politicians. Backing from former PM Abe in the LDP leadership race and Kishida’s appointment of Abe allies and rivals in his cabinet shows that balancing factions still matters and is a bow to where power in the party resides. Kishida’s selection of 13 relatively inexperienced ministers brings new voices into the mix, but notably, only three of 20 ministers are women. It remains to be seen how Kishida will implement his concept of “new Japanese capitalism” and to what degree the new mix of ministers will converge or depart from the previous administration.