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The Nikkei View

Kishida's new government must chart course to revive Japan

Economic and security policies should be fleshed out while addressing pandemic

Fumio Kishida, center, is applauded after being elected as Japan's prime minister in the lower house of parliament on Oct. 4 in Tokyo.   © AP

Fumio Kishida, president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, on Oct. 4 became the 100th prime minister of Japan. He will immediately face voters in a lower house election on Oct. 31. We hope he will redouble the government's efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis and lay out a clear path to overcome it.

Kishida formed a cabinet immediately after his election at an extraordinary Diet session. Prior to this, the party's executive committee was set up and its lineup solidified.

The series of appointments made clear Kishida's aim to consolidate his government's political base. Akira Amari, the LDP's new secretary-general, supported Kishida even though he belongs to the same intraparty faction as Taro Kono, Kishida's main rival in the presidential campaign. Amari is a close ally of both former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former Finance Minister Taro Aso, and together they form the influential "3As" of the LDP.

Sanae Takaichi, who won Abe's endorsement in the leadership campaign, became the LDP policy chief. Kishida received support from Takaichi's backers in the runoff vote between himself and Kono. A string of influential positions, including minister of economy, trade and industry and minister of finance, were given to members of the Hosoda and Aso factions, the two largest intraparty factions.

Kishida's influence could be seen in the appointment of younger officials. Three-term lawmaker Tatsuo Fukuda became chairperson of the LDP's General Council. In the cabinet, Karen Makishima and Takayuki Kobayashi, both three-term politicians in their forties, were appointed to high-profile posts.

But the consideration shown for the major factions stood out. Kishida's faction is the fifth-largest in the LDP, and his government is not yet on solid ground. A smooth start requires cooperation from both the Hosoda faction, which is strongly influenced by Abe, and the Aso faction, the largest and second-largest, respectively.

During the eight-year Abe government and the following government of Yoshihide Suga, the LDP was hit by multiple scandals and allegations related to politics and money. Amari also once resigned from the cabinet over issues of cash transfers.

In his campaign for leadership of the party, Kishida emphasized that he wants to "regain the trust of the people." The structure of the party is important, but Kishida must show through his actions that he will not forsake his pledge to restore trust in exchange for stability.

With the lower house election fast approaching, Kishida will face his first true test. Many of his promises during the leadership campaign were just goals, and he did not lay out specific steps to achieve them. He quickly needs to flesh out his platform, including which issues are priorities.

Kishida must first address the pandemic. The government lifted Japan's state of emergency, but some fear that a "sixth wave" of infections could come in winter.

Both the Abe and Suga governments struggled to deal with the pressure the pandemic has placed on Japan's health care system. Kishida wants to ensure that everyone has access to medical treatment, and he has called for "crisis management based on the worst-case scenario." He should immediately take steps to strengthen the medical system while the number of infections remains in check.

At the same time, social and economic activity needs to start up once again. The government should expand PCR testing and use vaccine passports to ease restrictions on activities and entry into Japan, all while pressing ahead with the vaccination drive.

Kishida also plans to put together a spending package worth tens of trillions of yen by the end of the year. Supporting people and businesses in distress is important, but the economy could experience a self-sustaining recovery if people are free to dine out and tourism begins again. All new measures must be scrutinized for possible pork-barrel spending as they are compiled.

In economic policy, the focus will be on changes to Abenomics, the economic policies that have continued since the Abe government. Kishida has called for a "virtuous cycle of growth and distribution." Spreading the benefits of growth among the people is fine, but the government must be careful not to prioritize distribution policies over policies that grow the pie. Balance between these priorities is key.

Digitization and decarbonization, two issues taken up by the Suga government, are also important parts of Kishida's growth strategy. These issues are crucial to Japan's future, and we hope the government will give them sufficient attention.

In security and foreign affairs, dealing with a coercive China remains a major issue. The country is Japan's largest trading partner, and a strong strategy based on both deterrence and dialogue is needed.

As prime minister, Suga promised to improve Japan's defense capabilities in a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden. Kishida should proactively consider what role Japan should play in this field.

After Junichiro Koizumi's premiership ended in 2006, the instability of Japanese politics saw a new prime minister each year. With the collapse of the Suga government after just one year, Japan's prospects have become a subject of international attention.

The Kishida government faces a difficult road ahead. Even if his leadership survives the upcoming lower house election, an upper house vote will come next summer.

Kishida himself has said that his strength is his "ability to listen." We hope that he will run his government conscientiously, but sometimes "raw courage" is necessary.

He will need both passion and political acumen to carry out the reforms that are essential in reviving Japan.

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