By Azuan Muda
Fumio Kishida, an ex-diplomat and former foreign minister, is set to be Japan’s 100th prime minister, after a landslide victory in the governing party’s leadership Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) election. Kishida will replace party leader Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who received a massive backlash from the public in handling the pandemic. Suga was installed as the prime minister 16 September last year after Shinzo Abe resigned due to health issues.
Kishida’s victory over the social-media famous minister, Taro Kono implied that the party chose stability over reforming the bureaucracy, digitalization and social security. Unlike Kono who is Twitter-savvy with more than 2 million followers, Kishida struggled to connect with the public. His proposition on the distribution of wealth to the middle-class received little support from the public and businesses.
Kishida has what LDP desperately needs to regain public support – he listened to the public and party conservative heavyweights. Kono, on the other hand, is particularly accepted by the young when he led an opinion poll on who should be the next prime minister.
Kishida, the 64-year-old former foreign minister, came into the office in 1993. While he was under Abe, he escorted former US President Barack Obama during his visit to Hiroshima, his parliamentary constituent, in 2016. A year before, he concluded an agreement with South Korea over the issue of Japan’s World War II sexual slavery. These notable achievements propelled Kishida’s profile among the party heavyweights.
That said, Kishida is not a stranger to the Americans. He is moderately diplomatic and received an early education in the States. His childhood in the States may shape him to become an idealist, supporting close Japan-US partnership by calling for a further increase in defence capability. His vows to stand up against China’s claims on Taiwan and Hong Kong somehow are testing conservative Abe who was friendly to China.
Political observers, however, expected a little change in relations to diplomatic and security policies under Kishida. It is because in the next few months, he needs to strike a balance between internal power politics among Abe’s influential and attuning to the public. After all, everything will contribute to the stability of Japan in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the worsening economy and the declining population.