Fumio Kishida passed his first big test as prime minister of Japan on Sunday as his ruling coalition secured a majority in the House of Representatives election, giving him the mandate to tackle the country’s coronavirus-battered economy, fast-aging population and a widening income gap.
Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its partner Komeito won 241 of the 465 seats in the lower chamber of Japanese Parliament as of 11:30 pm local time, meaning they could control almost all parliamentary committees and easily push through any divisive legislation. The opposition parties had obtained 124 seats.
Considering that the LDP alone had 276 seats before the election, analysts said Sunday’s result of the number of seats lost will be a factor in determining whether Kishida will be a short-term leader or if he will have enough allies to deliver his “new form of capitalism”.
On Sunday, polling stations across Japan closed at 8 pm and ballots were counted into the night, with candidates in several constituencies facing neck-and-neck competition.
A longtime dovish lawmaker, Kishida was chosen as the leader of LDP a month ago after Yoshihide Suga announced his resignation amid public discontent over his handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Following a record wave of coronavirus cases that forced the Tokyo Olympics to take place behind closed doors, infections in Japan declined dramatically in recent weeks with a daily average of 838 reported in the past week.
Voters told China Daily that issues like income gap and pandemic control were among the top concerns in their decision-making.
“Economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 era is a huge task that affects us,” said a college student who wants to only be referred to as Masao. “I am comparing the candidates’ proposals, but I am also worried that they are just saying nice things to indulge us.”
“The income gap in Japan is what I care about. It is expanding these years and is expanding more rapidly under the shadow of the pandemic,” said Jun Utsunomiya in Tokyo. “Prime Minister Kishida had promised to handle income disparities by redistributing wealth, but details of his plan remain vague.”
In his first policy speech, Kishida stressed his determination to promote “a new form of capitalism” in which more economic expansion will be achieved by distributing the fruits of growth.
The 64-year-old former foreign minister had pledged to issue a fresh stimulus package worth tens of trillions of yen and proposed to offer tax incentives for companies raising wages as a measure to promote redistribution of wealth to workers.
Erbiao Dai, vice-president of the Asian Growth Research Institute in Fukuoka, said Kishida’s success was largely due to the sudden improvement of Japan’s pandemic situation rather than his new capitalism.
“Kishida had criticized Japan’s neoliberal economic policy, which he argued had generated disparities and divisions,” Dai said.
“But as he became prime minister because of support from LDP heavyweights like Shinzo Abe, he also promised to continue Abenomics, which is actually, neoliberal.”
The many different trade and aid policies being pursued by China globally have been heavily criticised but can developing countries become more independent or will China’s policy reform?