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Kishida mirrors former PM Ikeda in pursuit of Japan's top post

Separated by decades, both men shared determination to defy the odds

Hayato Ikeda, left, won election as Japan's prime minister in 1960. Both he and the country's new leader, Fumio Kishida, reached the nation's highest office when few others believed it was possible.

TOKYO -- Fumio Kishida's determination to overcome the odds and win election as prime minister echoes the resolve of Hayato Ikeda, a Japanese leader from the 1960s with whom he shares political and geographic roots.

But as Kishida prepares to dissolve the Diet's lower house on Thursday for a general election Oct. 31, Japan's new prime minister faces a far less bullish economic landscape.

"I can see power. It lies ahead of me," Ikeda, who served as prime minister from 1960 to 1964, said just before running in the Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election more than 60 years ago. The quote comes from a book, "Hayato Ikeda, His Life and Death," written by his former aide Masaya Ito and published in 1966.

When Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi resigned in 1960 over widespread public opposition to the new U.S.-Japan security treaty, Ikeda's close confidants such as Masayoshi Ohira urged him to think twice before joining the party's leadership race. But Ikeda made the remark and decided to run, according to the book.

"A hermit came and said I would be the next [prime minister]," Ikeda also was quoted as saying.

Ikeda's statement of "I can see power" seems fitting for Kishida, who also was regarded as a long shot on Aug. 26 when he declared as a candidate in the leadership race for the ruling LDP. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had yet to declare he would resign, a move that ultimately led to Kishida's victory over three other candidates.

I once discussed the book with Kishida, who read its 1985 republished version under the title, "Hayato Ikeda and His Era." Kishida also vividly remembered the quote as impressive.

Did Kishida have a feeling similar to Ikeda's when he decided to run in the party presidential race?

"Mr. Yoshihide Suga was still the prime minister on Aug. 26. I never thought I would compete with Mr. Taro Kono and others," Kishida said. "Oddly, however, I had no hesitation to run. I thought I had no other choice but to run."

At that time, Suga was expected to win reelection as LDP president if he ran, given the pressing need to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan.

"None of the lawmakers close to me directly told me not to run," Kishida said. "In this respect, my situation was different from Mr. Ikeda's when he decided to run. I thought my life as a lawmaker would end if I did not run."

Noting his rock-solid determination to run, Kishida said his mindset may be similar to Ikeda's.

Kishida heads the "Kochi-kai" faction within the LDP, formed by Ikeda. Like Ikeda, Kishida was elected to the Diet representing Hiroshima. Kishida has advocated a "Reiwa Era's Income Doubling Plan" and "tolerant politics" modeled after Ikeda's "Income Doubling Plan" and "tolerance and endurance."

But Kishida takes the helm under vastly different circumstances. When Ikeda became prime minister in 1960, Japan was in the midst of rapid growth and the economy was expanding of its own accord. The country now faces an aging and dwindling population. Economic growth is unlikely unless the private sector is inspired through deregulation.

Kishida said he will not raise taxes on investment income, at least not immediately, after hearing opposition from the financial industry. He drew favorable reactions from market players by demonstrating his pet claim that he has "the power to listen."

He also demonstrated his power to listen when it comes to the relationship between growth and distribution. It is obvious that growth should be pursued as a precondition for distribution, but he had seemed to be focusing more on distribution.

At a plenary session of the Diet on Monday, Kishida clearly stated he would pursue growth first. The next task is to show concrete measures for growth. Here, too, he will need to use his power to listen.

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