A new party underpinned by online supporters throws its hat in the ring
Prime Minister Kishida Fumio is touting what he has achieved in the past nine months since the start of his government in his campaigning for the Upper House election on July 10. Some in the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei] say, “The ruling bloc will win an overwhelming victory if all goes smoothly.”
But the Cabinet’s approval rating is falling gradually. The biggest issue in the election is how to protect people’s lives and livelihoods by, for example, beefing up the defense capability in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and taking measures against rising prices caused by the weaker yen.
A political party called “Sanseito” is drawing increasing support on the Internet at a breakneck pace, though the party does not get any newspaper coverage at all. The party is said to be a political group of like-minded individuals established under the concept of “We will create a political group from scratch because there are no political parties we want to vote for.” Members of the group share a sense of crisis that the existing party politics of prioritizing benefits for politicians and people in their inner circles will ruin Japan. Kamiya Sohei, the party’s founder, is registered as a proportional-representation candidate in the upcoming Upper House election. He is also president of Ishikikaikaku Co. and a member of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) reserve. After graduating from university, Kamiya taught history at a high school and was elected as a Suita city assembly member at age 29. He then launched an Internet channel to urge the public to participate in politics.
Kishida feels most uncomfortable with LDP Policy Research Council Chair Takaichi
Kishida is considering making drastic personnel changes after the Upper House election to strengthen the foundation of his government. National Public Safety Commission Chair Ninoyu Satoshi and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Kaneko Genjiro of the Upper House are due to retire, so they need to be replaced. Also, Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo, who only repeats ‘it’s regrettable’ in a low, husky voice every time North Korea fires a missile toward Japan, is expected to be replaced. He is the biological brother of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. He is also “well versed in the security area and has many personal contacts in the U.S.,” according to a source at the Ministry of Defense (MOD). But he is unreliable if he can’t effectively convey messages from the government.
Kishida particularly emphasizes the appointment of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) executives. It is widely thought that if the LDP wins an “overwhelming victory” in the Upper House election, party executives will retain their posts. But a source at the Kantei says, “The prime minister intends to ‘completely replace’ the party leadership.” An experienced Diet member affiliated with the LDP intraparty faction led by Kishida says: “The LDP leadership consists of Vice-President Aso Taro, Secretary-General Motegi Toshimitsu, Policy Research Council Chairperson Takaichi Sanae, General Council Chairperson Fukuda Tatsuo, and Election Strategy Committee Chairperson Endo Toshiaki. But it is highly likely that Kishida will retain only Vice-President Aso and replace all of the remaining four executives. Kishida particularly feels uncomfortable with Takaichi. As a mouthpiece for former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, she insists on an expansionary fiscal policy and pretentiously declared that the government needs to increase its annual defense budget to more than 10 trillion yen when she appeared in a news program. Motegi is busy making arrangements for his candidacy in the next LDP presidential race rather than running the party. On top of that, Motegi and Takaichi are on bad terms, prompting Kishida to mediate between the two.”
Motegi’s fatal flaw is his tendency to commit power harassment. When he was serving as the economy minister, a “Motegi manual,” which details how to handle Motegi including his favorite foods and beverages, his favorite energy drink, and the stiffness of the mattress and the number of pillows he prefers to use at the hotels where he stays, was distributed among bureaucrats. One bureaucrat says Motegi yelled at him and said, “Be quiet!” because the sound the bureaucrat made when flipping the pages of a document was noisy. A source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) says when Motegi became foreign minister in 2019, “He temporarily became gentle as if he were a different person.” But since he became LDP secretary-general in November last year, he has once again been criticized for his high-handed manner.
It is said Abe has already expressed support for Economy Minister Hagiuda Koichi to be nominated as the next secretary-general. But Kishida may not do so because of the ill effects of the LDP intraparty faction led by Abe trying to control the government. The aforementioned veteran LDP Diet member says, “The prime minister should make such a bold move as appointing former Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide as secretary-general if he wants to secure his long-term rule.”
Personnel changes of bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki have been announced one after another. But the Kantei is certainly intervening in them. Abe is reportedly furious about the retirement of Vice Defense Minister Shimada Kazuhisa. A MOD source close to Abe says: “Shimada served as executive secretary for the prime minister for as long as six and a half years since the launch of Abe’s second government and knows everything about security policy. He is also deeply involved in the review of the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) scheduled for this autumn. So he was supposed to remain in the post. Kishida says that the government will significantly increase defense spending, but he is actually concerned about the Ministry of Finance (MOF).”
As for the change of executive directors at the Bank of Japan (BOJ), the government has appointed those closely affiliated with MOF to the post to replace reflationists who favor an aggressive monetary relaxation policy, accelerating the government’s move to shift away from the Abenomics economic policy.
Meanwhile, Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) Deputy Governor Hayashi Nobumitsu has been promoted to governor. Hayashi served in such posts as MOF Financial Bureau director-general and National Tax Agency commissioner. A source familiar with MOF says: “Former JBIC Governor Maeda Tadashi rose through the ranks at the Export-Import Bank of Japan (JEXIM). He was keen on the Sakhalin 2 project in Russia by taking advantage of his close ties with Abe. MOF tried to gain Kishida’s backing following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” Kishida will demonstrate his “ability to listen” under the guidance of MOF. But he is sure to face criticism from those in and outside the LDP. (Abridged)