Prime Minister Kishida Fumio is changing course from politics led by the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei] under his two predecessors Abe Shinzo and Suga Yoshihide. During his campaign for the Liberal Democratic Party presidency, he promised to change the style of governing in which the Kantei has more influence than the LDP. This is visible in the recent personnel reshuffle that he has carried out for party leadership and cabinet posts.
At a meeting that Kishida held with party’s junior members elected to the Lower House three times or less on Sept. 21, he emphasized that “the party and the Kantei should have been given equal power, but in reality, the Kantei has long preceded the party. We (the party) must convey opinions to the Kantei and the government in a more resolute fashion.”
Abe and Suga set grand policy visions and fleshed them out inside the Kantei when they were in power. On many occasions, the party’s role was limited to confirming things already decided within the government. This style bred discontent within the party.
Kishida aims to build a political style of government in which the party and administration work in tandem. He appointed Amari Akira, who had long led intraparty discussions on economic security and digitization policies, as secretary-general, and included in his cabinet those who had worked with Amari within the party on these policies.
Kobayashi Takayuki and Makishima Karen, who were named minister for economic security and minister for digital agency, respectively, were members of a party organization that Amari had led. A senior official from an economy-linked ministry notes that “it will become highly likely that Amari will liaise with cabinet ministers in moving forward policies.”
On Oct. 5, National Security Secretariat Secretary-General Akiba Takeo, Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary Takahashi Kenichi, Director-General of the Minister’s Secretariat Shinkawa Hirotsugu and several other government officials visited Amari at the party headquarters.
A sign of cooperation between the government and the party is also found in the energy field. Minster of Economy, Trade and Industry Hagiuda Koichi and Minister of the Environment Yamaguchi Tsuyoshi supported Takaichi Sanae, who has become the party’s policy chief, during the presidential race.
Takaichi is a proponent of nuclear power generation and has long advocated restarting nuclear reactors and keeping the “nuclear fuel cycle,” which reuses spent nuclear fuel. Kishida’s selection of pro-nuclear figures in the party’s leadership and his cabinet proves that energy policies will be likely formulated in a way that both the government and the party want.
Kishida’s selection of cabinet ministers may also stimulate intraparty discussion.
Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Goto Shigeyuki and Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy Yamagiwa Daishiro served as acting chairpersons of the party’s policy research council when Kishida was its head.
Besides cabinet ministers, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sugita Kazuhiro and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Izumi Hiroto, who had supported the Abe and Suga administrations, stepped down upon the launch of the Kishida cabinet.
It is widely believed that the retirement of the two influential bureaucrats, who had long seized control of ministries and agencies from the Kantei, could lead to diminishing Kantei-led politics. Some people inside an economy-linked ministry say that “latitude in policymaking will be broadened with the removal of their weight.”
Kishida has appointed former Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Shimada Takashi as executive secretary to the prime minister. During the Abe administration, Shimada and Imai Takaya, who joined METI in the same year as Shimada and worked for Abe as a secretary, wielded a strong influence in the Kantei. Because of that, the Abe government was even called a “METI cabinet.”
This time Kishida gave the secretary post to two other officials from the Ministry of Finance to keep a balance. Nonetheless, a turf battle over economic policies may break out between MOF and METI down the road. (Abridged)