BY ERIC JOHNSTON, STAFF WRITER
New Liberal Democratic Party President Fumio Kishida won’t have much time to get comfortable in the Prime Minister’s Office after he is formally elected to the country’s top post Monday.
Kishida, who is set to be named prime minister during an extraordinary Diet session following a successful LDP leadership campaign, will soon face a general election, which is expected to take place on either Nov. 7 or Nov. 14.
While it appears unlikely the ruling LDP-Komeito coalition will lose its majority in the Lower House, a weak performance at the polls could create interparty pressure for top leadership changes afterward.
How well the LDP does in the election will depend not only on Kishida but also four top party officials who were appointed Friday.
As three are high profile allies of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, their appointments have already led to criticism — including from within the party — that Kishida has handed de facto control of the LDP back to Abe.
Here are the four lawmakers just below Kishida in the party’s new executive lineup:
Akira Amari, secretary-general
As secretary-general, Amari will run the day-to-day operations of the LDP, and has the authority over who it backs in the general election and how party funding is allocated.
Amari was a key supporter of Abe’s economic policies, a strong proponent of nuclear power and a skeptic of rapidly increasing renewable energy usage at its expense. He was an early backer of Kishida for prime minister, and is one of the so-called 3A politicians, along with Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso, who have been cooperating behind the scenes to influence the party and its leadership. Amari was also a strong opponent of his predecessor, Toshihiro Nikai.
Amari is a former official in the Abe administration, where he served as economic revitalization and fiscal policy minister between 2012 and 2016. He also served as trade minister between 2006 and 2008, during Abe’s first period in office and then under his successor, Yasuo Fukuda. Amari also worked on deregulatory issues under Aso, who leads the faction to which Amari belongs, when Aso was prime minister in 2008-2009.
In 2016, Amari was forced to resign from the Abe Cabinet after it was revealed he’d received cash from a construction firm that was attempting to win a contract from a government-backed organization. However, public prosecutors decided not to indict him. After his appointment Friday, Amari denied any involvement in the scandal.
Sanae Takaichi, chair of LDP Policy Research Council
Takaichi is another close ally of Abe, as he actually backed her against Kishida in the LDP presidential election. Takaichi is known for her hawkish, right-wing views and her entrance into the race galvanized the party’s more conservative members.
Kishida’s victory in the Sept. 29 election came against vaccine czar and administration reform minister Taro Kono. Kono, though more popular with the public and among the party’s local chapters, lost the runoff election to Kishida, who had the support of many veteran Diet members. Many who voted for Takaichi in the initial round switched to Kishida in the final round, putting him in her, and Abe’s, political debt.
As LDP Policy Research Council chair, Takaichi will oversee the study, research, and planning of party policies which, after council discussions, become the LDP’s proposed legislative plans.
Takaichi held concurrent state ministerial positions during Abe’s first term as prime minister in 2006-2007, with her portfolios including Okinawa and the Northern Territories, science and technology policy, gender equality and food safety. She had two tenures as internal affairs minister after Abe returned to power in 2012, the first between 2014-2017, and the second between 2019-2020.
Takaichi has endured her share of controversies. In 2016, she told the Diet that the government could force television broadcasting networks off the air if they ignored official calls to remain politically neutral, as defined by the broadcasting law. She said she wouldn’t resort to such measures but future ministers might.
Tatsuo Fukuda, chair of LDP General Council
Fukuda, at 54, is considered one of the prominent leaders among the younger generation of LDP Diet members, having been first elected to the Lower House in 2012, when Abe returned to power.
His new position will have him overseeing the party’s general council, whose members are responsible for deliberating and deciding issues related to management of the party, as well as matters related to Diet affairs. Normally, the post goes to a party veteran well-versed in LDP procedures. But Kishida gave the post to Fukuda in an attempt to show he was interested in a balance between older and younger party leaders.
Fukuda is the son of former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and the grandson of former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda and has been touted in the media as a future prime minister himself. He’s held party posts dealing with agriculture and food strategy, defense, and Diet affairs.
After graduating Keio University, Fukuda spent a year at Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies and continues to retain a strong interest in security-related issues. Prior to the LDP leadership election, Fukuda led a group of about 90 younger Diet members, many of whom won their first elections in 2012 with Abe’s assistance, to discuss party reform with the candidates. Fukuda is a member of the faction of which Abe is now de facto leader.
Toshiaki Endo, chair of LDP Election Strategy Committee
Endo is a close ally of Kishida and helped lead his campaign for the party presidential election last year in which Kishida lost to Yoshihide Suga. He served as Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic minister in 2015-2016. He has a reputation for having a wide political network, including some members of opposition parties. Following the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan earthquake, tsunami, and triple meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, when the LDP was out of power, Endo led discussions with the then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan on recovery efforts.
With the general election coming up, the selection of a chair for election strategy is particularly crucial. The committee Endo will head is responsible for drawing up the party’s strategy for national elections, and for organizing all matters related to them. This includes setting the procedures for selecting candidates, and doing election policy research, including voter surveys, and offering candidates support.