Earlier last month, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that he will not run in his party’s leadership election, ultimately giving up his job after only serving for less than a year. The reason why he decided to step down was almost entirely because of his waning public support over the coronavirus outbreak.
It all started last September when the prime minister of the time, Shinzo Abe, had to step down from office over health issues, and Suga took over. Before becoming prime minister, Suga had held the position of chief cabinet secretary for almost eight years in Abe’s government. He was elected that same September with 70% of the votes, and his inauguration was seen as a promotion of the image of stability and continuity between him and Abe.
Although Suga started strong, he faced widespread criticism over his government’s indecisive responses, and especially on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last December when it was first getting started, Suga declined the need for a coronavirus state of emergency, despite being close to China. However, he immediately set up states of emergencies for Tokyo and several other prefectures the following month. These hurt businesses during the pandemic, and the vaccine campaign in Japan was far behind those of other developed nations.
Suga also decided to push ahead with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics despite warnings from the country’s top coronavirus administrator, and polls showing that the majority of the public disapproved of holding a major sporting event during the pandemic. Although the games went on without any major incidents, cases still surged during the summer.
By August, Suga’s approval rating sunk to only 31.8%, a record low, and more than 65% wanted him out of office according to a survey conducted by Kyodo News. “The difficulty for (Suga) was that he was trying to leave his mark and also show that he’s an independent politician. But he was so constrained by the policy legacies that were left behind by his predecessor,” said political science professor Koichi Nakano at Sophia University in Tokyo.
On October 4th, 2021, it was confirmed by the Japanese Parliament that Fumio Kishida of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) took office as the country’s 100th prime minister after winning a parliamentary vote. Since his party holds a majority in both houses, Kishida won at a pretty comfortable margin against the head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Yukio Edano. Although he won the election, he didn’t have much support from the public as he was mostly viewed as a boring bureaucrat. “There are so many complicated issues. And he is not the strongest leader in the ruling party of LDP. So I’m so concerned about the revolving prime minister system,” said Suga’s economic advisor and CEO of Suntory Takeshi Niinami.
On that same day, the president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, sent a letter of congratulations to Kishida, expressing hope that the two countries can develop better relations with themselves and other neighboring countries.
People applaud Fumio Kishida in the parliament’s lower house after being elected as the country’s new prime minister (Photo provided by Eugene Hoshiko/AP)
64-year-old Kishida previously served as the country’s foreign minister under Abe’s government from 2012 to 2017, and he was first elected to parliament in 1993 representing the city of Hiroshima. He even accompanied former President Barack Obama on his trip to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2016.
Not long after the vote, Kishida presented his new Cabinet with about all but two being replaced from the original cabinet. Of the 20 members, 13 have no previous cabinet experience and 3 will be women. Kishida said that one of his top priorities will be the economy, and he plans to improve it by introducing a “new capitalism” that will focus on shortening the gap between the rich and the poor, as well as increasing consumer spending. He also plans on proposing a recovery package for the economy which is said to be worth around several tens of trillions of yen.
Now that Kishida is the prime minister, another major problem that he will have to face is implementing measures to counter Covid-19. Although 60% of Japan’s population has been vaccinated and states of emergencies have been lifted as cases have dropped, there’s still a concern over the possibility of a resurgence in cases in the winter. “We will thoroughly analyze the corona response so far and examine what was the bottleneck of the crisis response,” said Kishida.
Along with those issues, the country also faces is an increasingly aggressive North Korea, which last month test-fired ballistic missiles that can go far enough to hit Japan. There’s also the issue of maintaining economic ties with China while also being wary of its evergrowing military assertiveness. Kishida is expected to encourage strong ties with the U.S and other allies.
Kishida has also said that he plans on tackling the nation’s declining birthrate, rapidly aging population, and considering nuclear energy as a clean and renewable energy option.