On Feb. 3, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Policy Research Council Chairperson Fumio Kishida spoke at the Lower House Budget Committee meeting, engaging in debate with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others. He stressed the need to widen the scope of the constitutional amendment debate, which tends to focus on revision of Article 9. There were some signs that Kishida has his sights on the post-Abe period. For example, he touched on a few aspects of his concept for his own administration. He was hamstrung, however, by his position as a top-ranking official of the LDP and chair of the liberal Kishida faction. In the end, Kishida was not able to show much uniqueness.
“What is important is not to have a private debate but to have people take broad interest in the issue.” The first to speak in response to questions at the fiscal 2020 draft budget deliberations, Kishida described the gatherings that the LDP has held in locations around the nation on the theme of the Constitution. Out of the LDP’s four constitutional amendment proposals, he said there was interest in enhancing education and eliminating “combined districts” in Upper House elections. This elicited the following response from Prime Minister Abe, who has long advocated that the existence of the Self-Defense Forces be explicitly stated in the Constitution: “There is still not sufficient understanding [of the need to revise Article 9].”
Kishida seemed to be concerned about former LDP Secretary-General Makoto Koga, who is honorary chair of the Kishida faction and opposes the amendment of Article 9. On the one hand, Kishida drew close to Prime Minister Abe’s pet argument, saying, “It is important to end the contention that the SDF are unconstitutional.” However, he did not forget his own position, given that Koga has hopes that he will be Abe’s successor. Regarding “Abenomics,” he said that both high-income earners and low-income earners benefit but then went on to touch on the need for the situation to be rectified, saying that “we are called to allocate broad benefits to the middle class.” Recently Kishida has frequently been using the phrase “from division to cooperation,” and he stressed during the debate that “it is very important to maintain the unity of the people.”
The prime minister’s term as LDP president ends in September next year, and Kishida has clearly said that he will run in the next presidential election. At the start of the year, he spoke of his resolve to enhance his messaging, saying he will “communicate his thoughts for the new era in an easy-to-understand fashion.” LDP lawmakers, however, criticized Kishida’s handling of Diet questions on Feb. 3, saying, “He was not concrete.”