Elections in Japan look closer than usual, but the ruling party has suspended

TOKYO – Japan has not lacked faceless prime ministers for decades, a revolving door of leaders forgotten almost as soon as they leave office. The latest, who hit on an exit that lasted only one year on his own, was criticized for his communication style, which often seemed like a cure for insomnia.

Now comes Fumio Kishida, who was elected Prime Minister last month by the ruling Liberal Democrats and hopes to lead the party to victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, which are closer than usual.

The Liberal Democrats crossed both in anointing 64-year-old Kishida discovered maverick who was popular with the public and an extreme right-wing nationalist who would be Japanese the first female presenter.

Although slightly less stubborn than its predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, The Japanese media often describe Mr Kishido as “boring” and still try to connect with the public or even with his supporters and friends.

“His speech sounds so serious that it doesn’t sound interesting, even if he wanted to say something interesting,” said 67-year-old Ikuzo Kubota, president of a real estate management company in Hiroshima who has known Mr. Kishido for more than 30 years. “Even now, sometimes I think I should learn to say things in an interesting way.”

The rise of Mr Kishida, a former foreign minister, is a strong reflection of the strong power of the Liberal Democrats in Japan. He was chosen precisely because of his milquetoast persona, political experts argued, as he allows behind-the-scenes mediators of power to project their plan onto him. And the party decided confident he can win the election despite a lack of charisma.

But gambling is likely to have consequences. Due to public dissatisfaction with economic stagnation and the government’s initial handling of the coronavirus crisis, the Liberal Democrats are expected to lose their seats and only gain a majority. Many voters are expected to stay at home.

Hoping to emerge from the election less weakened than expected, Mr Kishida crossed the country on charter flights during the two-week campaign. At the last stop of the campaign on Saturday night, in front of a crowded square in front of the Tokyo train station, Mr. Kishida received some polite applause when he exclaimed cordially “Good evening.”

His voice cracked several times as he tried to project enthusiasm into his stupid speech and stumbled upon his promises to build a new style of economy and protect Japan from growing regional instability. He ended by warning that Japanese democracy would be threatened if communist party state won more seats in parliament.

Mr Kishida’s rhetoric about a “new capitalism” to reduce income inequality, a platform for the disgruntled public plagued by coronavirus-related business restrictions, became increasingly vague during the campaign.

He rejected a proposal to raise taxes on capital gains. Instead, he returned to the well-known economic handbook for the Liberal Democrats and called for greater fiscal spending on projects supported by large industries such as construction, which typically support the party.

“He’s almost like a figure for other personalities in the party to present their ideas,” said James Brady, chief Japanese analyst at Tene, a risk consulting firm. “He’s not a strong leader. He’s not someone who has a lot of ideas.”

Like many other Liberal Democrat MPs, Mr Kishida was raised in a political family. Both his grandfather and father served in the House of Representatives, and Mr. Kishida began his political career as his father’s secretary.

Although Mr. Kishida represents the district of Hiroshima and his family is from that area, he was mostly raised in Tokyo. He spent three years in New York City when his father was posted there while serving in the Department of Commerce.

He often cites the formative experience of attending a public elementary school in the Elmhurst section of Queens and describes an incident in 1965 when a white classmate refused to hold his hand as instructed by a teacher on an excursion. Mr Kishida says the moment planted in him a lifelong commitment to justice and fairness.

In Japan, Mr. Kishida was an avid – albeit by his own admission middle – baseball player. He tried three times and failed to pass the entrance exam for Tokyo University, the most prestigious state university in Japan.

He finally enrolled at Waseda, a top private university in Tokyo. In his memoirs “Kishida Vision” published last year, he wrote that in his undergraduate years he was more interested in music and mahjong than academics.

Mr. Kishida began a career in banking and gained empathy, he wrote, for people and small businesses struggling to repay loans.

When his father died of cancer at the age of 65, Mr. Kishida ran for headquarters in Hiroshima in 1993 and won. He served in various positions in the cabinet and was the longest-serving Japanese foreign minister under the prime minister. Shinzo Abe.

He did not leave a great impression on his colleagues. “I don’t remember him, although I met him every week at government meetings,” said Yoichi Masuzoe, a former Tokyo governor who was health minister when Mr Kishida was minister in charge of Okinawa and a number of famous islands. as northern territories.

Some foreign ministry officials have nicknamed him “Chihuahua” and behind his back have referred to him as a “well-behaved type of dog,” said Gen Nakatani, a former defense minister who has known Mr. Kishido for 30 years.

One Member, represented by Mr Kishida met in college and described him as one of his best friends, he supported a rival, Taro Kono, in the recent Liberal Democrat leadership election.

Mr Kishidi lacks the whirlwinds or arrogance that characterizes other policies. “He listens to people, is calm and never speaks badly of others,” Mr Nakatani said. “He’s not behaving selfishly.”

When he was foreign minister President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima in 2016 and when South Korea and Japan signed a so-called compensation agreement in 2015 comforts women, a term for those taken as sex slaves by Japanese soldiers during World War II. But Mr. Kishida rarely gets credit for these accomplishments.

If he remembers it, it’s like an abundant drinker who maintains his dignity and leaves the bar before midnight. In his memoirs, he wrote that he matched Sergei V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, with a drink for a drink. Mr. Kishida once hosted a birthday party for his Russian counterpart and gave him a bottle of Suntory Hibiki 21 whiskey, which costs about $ 750.

When Caroline Kennedy was the American ambassador to Tokyo, Mr. Kishida gave her T-shirts, aprons, and cups imprinted with photographs or cartoons of her face.

His attempts to impress on social media have sometimes failed or led to outright ridicule.

The post he shared Twitter in Instagram, who showed his wife standing at the kitchen door while he sat at the table and ate the dinner she had prepared, was rudely ridiculed. Slightly more popular were videos showing his wife, 57-year-old Yuko, and his three sons cheering him on.

“Socially and culturally, it’s somewhat at odds with the majority of the population,” said Shihoko Goto, a senior associate for Northeast Asia at downtown Wilson, Washington.

His self-denial is supported by political pragmatism, which allows him to turn around when certain ideas become unpopular or has to cater to a particularly strong electorate. More often than not, this constituency comes from the party, not the public.

As a politician from Hiroshima, Mr Kishida opposed nuclear weapons and took a more pivotal stance on foreign policy. But as a prime ministerial candidate, he has strengthened his hawkish stance on China and called for a restart of nuclear power plants, the vast majority of which have been dormant since triple fracture v Fukushima 10 years ago. Support for nuclear energy is a key item on the agenda of the right wing of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Because Mr. Kishida won the legislature-backed prime ministerial election, “more focused on pleasing organized interests and big business,” he must now reward them, said Megumi Naoi, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.

Regarding his proposals on economic inequality, Ms. Naoi said she could not say how honest he was at all. “I don’t know how much of that is his belief,” she said, “or just a campaign strategy or a political survival strategy.”

Makiko Inoue, Ben Dooley and Hikari Hida contributed to the reporting.

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