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EDITORIAL: Kishida decision not to run illustrates grim state of politics

  • July 26, 2018
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 2:05 p.m.
  • English Press
  • ,

Fumio Kishida, policy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has decided not to challenge Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the party leadership election in September.

 

Instead, Kishida told a July 24 news conference that he will support Abe’s bid for a third term as LDP president.

 

Abe has already secured the support of three intraparty groups led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and Hiroyuki Hosoda. The prime minister belongs to Hosoda’s bloc.

 

Kishida’s group is the fourth largest within the party. If it joins, the combined representation of the four groups will be 60 percent of the LDP Diet members.

 

The fact that a growing number of party heavyweights are flocking to the pro-Abe camp after five years and seven months of his powerful rule portrays a political party incapable of free and vigorous policy debate.

 

During the news conference, Kishida said he and Abe don’t always see eye to eye on political principles and policy issues.

 

If so, Kishida should have entered the party leadership race and sought head-on debates with Abe. His candidacy would have helped both politicians refine their policies and make those within and outside the party better understand their ideas.

 

After serving as Abe’s foreign minister for four and a half years, Kishida left the Cabinet last summer. He was seen as one of the leading candidates to succeed Abe as the LDP president.

 

This spring, he announced an outline of his group’s policy platform, which stresses his differences from Abe. It calls for a shift from the “top-down” to a “bottom-up” approach to policymaking, and efforts to build a society where diversity is respected.

 

But Kishida effectively endorsed the continuation of Abe’s dominant political power by deciding not to challenge him.

 

A power struggle within the LDP, which revolves around key party and government posts, was probably behind Kishida’s decision.

 

Last month, Aso, a staunch Abe supporter, said those defeated in the party leadership election should be prepared to get a “raw deal” in appointments.

 

Aso’s apparent attempt to intimidate Abe’s potential rivals is nothing but a sign of the Abe administration’s arrogance, stemming from the prime minister’s overwhelming power.

 

Politicians who follow the powerful leader receive favorable treatment while those who disobey him are treated harshly.

 

It is distressing to see the practice known as “sontaku,” or acting to accommodate the assumed wishes and intentions of one’s boss, infesting not only bureaucrats but also Diet members, who are elected representatives of the people.

 

The problem of sontaku, which came to the fore in the political scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution, cast doubts on the fairness of the administrative process and the credibility of politics.

 

The LDP controls a solid majority in both Diet chambers. The election of the party president amounts to choosing the next prime minister.

 

Abe, if he is re-elected for a third term, could end up becoming the longest-serving prime minister in Japan.

 

The horrid aspects of his dominance are clear for everyone to see, be it the administration’s high-handed approach to Diet affairs or its failure to clear the air in political scandals.

 

Given this bleak state of affairs, the LDP’s choice in the leadership poll takes on added importance.

 

It is unlikely to be an uncontested election like the previous one in 2015 as former Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba is among those who have indicated an intention to run.

 

The focus will be on the depth and breadth of policy debates among the candidates as well as on how card-carrying local party members and registered party supporters will vote.

 

Abe’s dominant power is threatening to sap politics of vim and vigor. The current situation, where many ruling party members bend over backward to please the powerful leader, could imperil the future of politics.

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