It’s September 2023, and Prime Minister Kishida has just reshuffled his cabinet. What does this mean? Let’s take a look inside Kishida’s new lineup and try to make sense of the rationale behind his decision.
In modern Japanese politics, a cabinet reshuffle is often seen as a PR play. For Japan’s prime ministers, everything revolves around their administration’s approval rate. When the approval rate is high, a PM can rest easy knowing that the public supports their leadership and policies. However, once disapproval outpaces approval, this puts the PM in a precarious situation. A low approval rate signals trouble in future elections and could spur calls from within their own party for them to resign.
Unfortunately for PM Kishida, he is facing a low approval rate. The latest NHK poll in September 2023 showed that only 36% of the voting population approve of his administration, while 43% do not approve. Simply put, a cabinet reshuffle is one way to potentially fix that.
Let’s explore the potential challenges and plans he may face in the future. From orchestrating elections to navigating political storms, Kishida’s leadership skills will be put to the test.
First, we will delve into the possible scenarios and strategies he might employ.
Election concerns and party dynamics
Come 2025, Kishida’s fellow members in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), especially those in the lower house, have been anxious about an impending snap election since June. Dissolving the lower house and calling a snap election is a common tactic for a PM to rekindle support from within their party. That is, if the outcome is good!
However, while Kishida has vaguely suggested a snap election, nothing is 100% as of now. Pundits say that November is a potential timing, and a cabinet reshuffle usually foreshadows a snap election. However, if Kishida holds off on rolling the dice on holding a snap election, other party leaders might begin to question Kishida’s leadership abilities, setting the stage for a showdown within his own party.
Handling domestic political storms with foreign policy
Against the backdrop of significant foreign policy decisions involving diplomatic relations with countries like China, Taiwan, and South Korea, Kishida finds himself in a tight spot. To weather the storm and maintain his political influence, he must either stand firm or convincingly appear to do so. Especially with Kishida’s surprise decision to replace foreign minister Hayashi, a close ally, it is peculiar to see Kishida dispatch a veteran foreign minister at this critical timing. First of all, it will be interesting to see how long-time justice minister Yoko Kamikawa takes to her new role as foreign minister.
Dissolving the House of Representatives
Kishida is debating whether to dissolve the House of Representatives this autumn, possibly around November 2023. If he follows through and the LDP does well, he could effectively shift the next House of Representatives election to 2027, which would alleviate the worries of his party colleagues and strengthen his grip on power. However, if he holds off or proceeds with a snap election but the outcome is poor, mutiny from within the LDP is almost inevitable.
Impact and potential outcomes
If all goes well for PM Kishida in the coming months, he could regain political momentum, secure a more substantial number of seats in the House of Representatives, and continue to turn his keystone policies into reality. This could potentially lead to another three-year term at the helm of the LDP. With the next LDP leadership election in September 2024, Kishida needs internal support because it is the outcome of this election that decides Japan’s Prime Minister. These breadcrumbs dropped along the way highlight his intentions.
Kishida’s recent appointment of a former female politician from the Democratic Party as his Special Advisor is a calculated move. Pundits have analyzed this as a tactic to appease the upper ranks of Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner known to be doves on national security matters and taking countermeasures against China.
While Kishida looked to embrace diversity with the inclusion of 5 female ministers, this backfired tremendously as he assigned 54 male officials (and 0% females) to vice-minister and parliamentary vice minister roles. This was immediately picked up by the press, and is likely to deliver another blow to his approval rate. If a snap election is indeed held in November, a reshuffling of these secondary ministerial positions might be likely.
As we await Prime Minister Kishida’s next steps, there is anticipation surrounding his upcoming proposed supplementary budget for October. With careful strategizing and political maneuvering, can Kishida get his groove back? Only time will tell, but unfortunately for him the current situation is somewhat precarious. The drama of Japanese politics never ceases to enthrall the Nagatacho nerds and confuse the dickens out of casual observers.
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