Japan’s diminishing ‘ball of fire’ PM Kishida

Japan’s diminishing ‘ball of fire’ PM Kishida
Japan’s diminishing ‘ball of fire’ PM Kishida

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reacts during a news conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo on December 13, 2023. — Pool pic via AFP

TOKYO, Dec 14 — From photos of his son partying to ties to a shady religious sect to the latest party funding brouhaha, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has stumbled from scandal to scandal in his two years in office.

Instead of showing leadership, the man installed by the Liberal Democratic Party in 2021 as a safe pair of hands has dithered, in part because of the need to keep the party’s many factions happy, analysts say.

Combined with rising prices hitting voters’ wallets in the world’s number-three economy, Kishida’s indecisiveness has translated into tumbling poll ratings for the LDP, which has run Japan almost uninterrupted for decades.


“I think Kishida is generally seen as a decent guy personally, but not someone who communicates clearly or acts decisively,” James Brady of the Teneo risk consultancy told AFP.

But Kishida’s “need to keep the various (LDP) factions happy meant that he couldn’t act as decisively as the public would have wished in response,” Brady said.

Three strikes


The keen baseball fan failed three times to get into Tokyo University, studying instead at a private college before following his father and grandfather into politics in 1993.

As premier, he has sided decisively with Ukraine after Russia’s invasion nearly two years ago, welcoming President Volodymyr Zelensky to a G7 summit in Hiroshima and visiting Kyiv.

Kishida has promised to hike military spending in a move welcomed by the United States as it seeks to counter China. Long-frosty relations with South Korea have also improved on Kishida’s watch.

Domestically things started well enough, with the prime minister carrying a notebook to events to scribble down ideas from the public during the LDP leadership campaign.

But he has been reticent on hot-button social issues such as gay marriage, although his government — which has five female ministers — passed new laws on the number of women in corporate boardrooms.

He has promised to tackle Japan’s demographic decline and promote a more equitable “new capitalism”, but these policies remain vague, as do his plans to pay for them.

While pushing for a resurgence of nuclear power, he has promised no new “unabated” coal power stations, even though critics say the necessary technology is unproven.

“Although he has made bold and controversial decisions to please some LDP groups, it seems he is very weak and dithering when it comes to implementing them,” Japanese political expert Kensuke Takayasu at Waseda University told AFP.

Party snaps

But it is the scandals that have probably hurt the 66-year-old father-of-three the most, experts said.

Leaked photos of his son partying at the prime minister’s official residence forced Kishida to remove him as his secretary earlier this year.

Kishida lost four ministers in three months in 2022 including the defence chief and the minister for economic revitalisation, both over alleged ties to the controversial South Korean Unification Church.

The man accused of killing Shinzo Abe in July 2022 allegedly shot the former prime minister because he believed he was tied to the church, which the attacker resented for personal reasons.

Kishida’s government is seeking to strip the local Japanese chapter of the church of its official recognition, but this month photos emerged of him meeting the head of an affiliated group in 2019.

Kishida — who this year escaped a pipe-bomb attack unscathed — also ruffled feathers by organising a state funeral for Abe instead of a smaller ceremony.


The latest scandal reportedly involves kickbacks of 500 million yen (US$3.4 million) to members of the LDP.

Today four ministers, five deputies, and several other senior officials resigned.

Kishida has promised to tackle the scandal “like a ball of fire”.

But all those departing are from the biggest faction within the LDP, which could “complicate the administration’s management”, Naofumi Fujimura, professor of political science at Kobe University, told AFP.

“The scandal has significantly undermined public support for the LDP and the Kishida government. However, it remains uncertain whether it will result in a change of government, especially given the currently low public support for opposition parties,” he said. — AFP

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