Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who won a public mandate for his administration in the House of Representatives election, has given his policy speech at an extraordinary session of the Diet.
But again, his true colors were not clear to see.
Policy speeches give prime ministers the opportunity to explain the overarching principles behind how the country is run. Kishida mentioned as a matter of priority coronavirus countermeasures and economic recovery, but his speech was light on concrete plans.
It’s likely Kishida garnered support in the general election because of public expectations that he represented a shift from policies under the previous administrations of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. To respond to these expectations, Kishida must indicate his own identity.
In response to the emergence of the coronavirus’s omicron variant, Kishida strengthened border controls. When they generated confusion, he immediately rescinded the stiff control measures. His response contrasted hugely with the Abe and Suga administrations’ refusal to admit mistakes.
Kishida’s announcements he would “prepare for the worst” regarding the coronavirus and make booster shots available earlier than planned likely come from lessons learned from the previous administrations’ mistaken responses that left them always a step behind the virus.
But on economic policy, the current administration seems to be promoting nothing new. A growth strategy of investment in science and technology, as well as in green energy, is just an extension of the previous two administrations’ economic policies.
When it came to distribution policy, Kishida was unable to indicate how far he would go in providing tax breaks to companies that raise wages.
The prime minister has repeatedly said he would switch from neoliberalism, which emphasizes growth and efficiency, to aim for a “new capitalism.” According to Kishida, this new capitalism’s two pillars involve public and private sectors fulfilling their roles and making investments, and distribution to the people through wage hikes and other measures.
Kishida calls this attempt at a new capitalism a “historic challenge that comes only once in several generations” — equivalent to the Meiji Restoration or Japan’s period of rapid economic growth in the post-World War II era — but the notion of distributing the fruits of growth is no different from former Prime Minister Abe’s Abenomics economic policy mix. Perhaps Prime Minister Kishida himself has not been able to envision a concrete image of his economic policy.
The current extraordinary Diet session is the first in which full-scale discussion of matters has been held under the Kishida administration.
The 35.9 trillion yen (approx. $316 billion) supplementary budget submitted is the largest in history. The purpose and effect of some measures and policies, such as the provision of the equivalent of 100,000 yen (approx. $881) to children 18 and under, have been brought into question.
Ruling and opposition parties must scrutinize the budget’s contents through active debate so that the limited funds are used as effectively as possible.
The Abe and Suga administrations notably refused to hear opposing views, and adopted a belittling attitude toward the Diet. The prime minister must respond to questions, not dodge them, and explain in his own words what kind of country he aims to make Japan.
Now is the time to put “respectful and generous politics” into action.