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Japan election

Fumio Kishida becomes Japan's 100th prime minister

General elections to be held Oct. 31 as LDP intends to ride political momentum

Fumio Kishida stands after being chosen as Japanese prime minister by the lower house in Tokyo on Oct. 4. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)

TOKYO -- Fumio Kishida, president of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was elected as the nation's 100th prime minister on Monday amid news that he has decided to dissolve the lower house later this month to hold general elections on Oct. 31.

Widespread opinion within the ruling parties had been that the general elections should be held on Nov. 7 or Nov. 14.

After the inauguration of a new cabinet, there tends to be a "celebratory market" in which support for the cabinet rises. The LDP's approval rating has already risen sharply since the party's presidential election last month. And last week Japan lifted a monthslong state of emergency after successfully bringing down daily new COVID-19 cases.

Kishida, who will form his cabinet this evening, apparently wants to use the momentum in election campaigning.

The cabinet of Kishida's predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, lost support due to its poor response to the "fifth wave" of COVID infections. Japan also hosted the Tokyo Olympics during the wave.

The government lifted the emergency declaration on Sept. 30. Now, for the first time since April, no declarations or "priority measures to prevent the spread of the virus" are in effect anywhere in the nation.

But if infections start to increase again as people, especially those in big cities, return to the pre-COVID routines and interact, it might affect the new government's approval rating.

Kishida's diplomatic schedule will be finalized along with the schedule of the lower house elections.

He will not attend the summit of leaders from the world's 20 leading industrial and emerging-market nations in Italy at the end of October as it coincides with the lower house elections.

After the elections, Kishida will consider attending the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations' COP26 climate conference, to be held in the U.K. beginning Nov. 1.

Major country leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, are expected to gather at COP26. Kishida intends to hold a summit with Biden and other leaders from big democracies.

Kishida's government will be in place for a few weeks as the new prime minister has decided to waste no time in holding lower house elections. The dissolution of the chamber is expected to take place on Oct. 14.

Kishida will formalize his cabinet and hold his first news conference in the evening. The new prime minister will make his first policy speech in front of the Diet on Friday.

"This is the real start," Kishida told reporters at LDP headquarters on Monday morning. "I want to [form a cabinet] with a strong mind and determination."

In what is to be a short-lived cabinet, relatively young and female candidates are expected to focus on enhancing Japan's economic security and vaccinating more of the population against COVID-19.

This is the first change of prime minister since September 2020. This time, there are expected to be 13 first-time cabinet members among the 20 ministerial posts. Takayuki Kobayashi will take the economic security portfolio, newly created in response to the intensifying U.S.-China conflict rocking the world order.

Kobayashi is a former parliamentary vice minister of defense and has been elected to the lower house three times. Another three-time winner, Noriko Horiuchi, a former deputy environment minister, will be in charge of vaccines, joining the cabinet for the first time.

Hirokazu Matsuno will be appointed as the chief cabinet secretary. Shunichi Suzuki will replace Aso Taro as finance minister, marking the first change in that post in eight years and nine months.

Koichi Hagiuda, education, science and technology minister, will become the minister of the economy, trade and industry. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi will be reappointed to emphasize policy continuity.

Shigeyuki Goto will become health, labor and welfare minister, while Daishiro Yamagiwa will become state minister for economic and fiscal policy. Seiko Noda, who competed with Kishida in the LDP presidential election, will be made minister in charge of the declining birthrate.

Noda, Horiuchi and digital minister Karen Makishima are the cabinet's female members so far. Kishida has pledged to raise the proportion of women in the cabinet.

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