Japan lawmakers vote Fumio Kishida as new prime minister
Japan’s Fumio Kishida was appointed prime minister by parliament Monday, and is set to reveal a new cabinet lineup as he seeks to revive support for his ruling party ahead of a general election that could likely come this month.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party used its majority to formally elect Kishida, who will be the second premier in about a year, and is looking to hold a national election on Oct. 31, national public broadcaster NHK and Kyodo News said Monday, with an upper house vote due next year.
Most of the new cabinet members have already been reported by domestic media and the incoming premier may struggle to attract voter interest given that almost all of the members of his team are party veterans. After pledging to appoint younger lawmakers, he is set to remove 81-year-old Finance Minister Taro Aso from his post, replacing him with former Olympics Minister Shunichi Suzuki, 68.
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Kishida won the LDP leadership race last week, beating three opponents, two of whom he’s already appointed to party positions, with the third set to join his cabinet. The new team will need to help revive the pandemic-hit economy as it exits a state of emergency and also find a way to balance ties between China, the country’s biggest trade partner and the U.S., its only treaty ally.
Kishida has pledged to create a position for a minister of economic security, as the country seeks to bolster its semiconductor industry, amid worldwide shortages. He’s also vowed to focus on bolstering the middle classes by raising incomes.
In a good sign for Kishida, data last week showed confidence among big Japanese businesses unexpectedly improved for a fifth straight quarter, defying a record wave of coronavirus infections and suggesting a potentially faster recovery under the nation’s new prime minister.
The male-dominated LDP has struggled for years with gender equality and Kishida is set to appoint three women to his new cabinet -- expected to be 20 members, media reports said. The highest-profile spots have been allocated to men, with Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi expected to keep his job, according to Kyodo News, while Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi is also set to stay on, according to the Yomiuri newspaper.
One barrier to appointing more women as ministers is the dearth of female candidates in the party as a whole. About 10% of lower house lawmakers are women, while among LDP representatives, the figure is less than 8%. Seiko Noda, a female former internal affairs minister who ran against Kishida in the LDP race, is expected to join the cabinet as minister for tackling the low birth rate and reviving the regions, public broadcaster NHK said.
Support for the long-dominant LDP had sagged under outgoing premier Yoshihide Suga, amid criticism of his handling of the coronavirus, and began to rise after he announced he would step down after about a year in the post. While none of the opposition parties have support of more than single figures, they plan to work together in many constituencies to chip away at the ruling coalition’s majority in the election.
“It’s like a triathlon,” Hideki Murai, an LDP lawmaker and member of Kishida’s faction, told Bloomberg last week. “Winning the party leadership is just like completing the swim. Only when he’s finished the bike ride, which is the lower house election and the run, which is the upper house election, will he have a stable administration.”
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