Kishida Blazing after Parliamentary Victory

  • After losing in 2019, Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party wins supermajority
  • This win will help Kishida implement his own reforms
  • Kishida is looking to reinforce Japan’s defense through domestic and foreign policies
外務省 for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan / Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license

Why is Kishida’s temperature blazing? 

Answer: His party won a parliamentary supermajority and he is facing a weak opposition 

On the 10th of July 2022, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s political party, The Liberal Democratic Party, and its coalition partner, Komeito, obtained a supermajority. They won two-third of seats in the upper house of parliament. This means that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will rule with an absolute parliamentary majority until the next elections which take place in 2025. Kishida’s temperature is blazing since winning a supermajority was key for the LDP since it is only under these conditions that the government is allowed to modify the constitution. 

This would allow the LDP to amend the current post WW2 pacifist constitution. Some of their criticisms behind this constitution is that the document was largely drafted by US General McArthur and his legal office in 1946 when Japan was under American occupation. Furthermore, the governing bloc has managed to secure the support of the lower chamber to review the constitution. 

The revision of the constitution is not the only measure that Kishida will be able to apply. He can also concentrate on establishing his idea of “new capitalism” in Japan. His vision for Japanese new capitalism would be centered around taking measures to help the economy become greener. These reforms would also increase wages and competitiveness.

Additionally, Kishida’s temperature is blazing as he is facing a weak and splintered opposition. Indeed, LDP’s main opposition, the Constitutional Democrats, have struggled to gain voters’ support since their last term ended in 2012. Most voters were disappointed in the way they handled the Fukushima disaster in 2011.  

What is changing Kishida’s temperature? 

Answer: Shinzo Abe’s death and strengthening alliances with key players.

Before the 2022 parliamentary elections, Kishida’s temperature was hot. This can be explained by the fact that in the 2019 parliamentary elections while the LDP did win the relative majority, it failed to win the supermajority. This meant that Kishida faced too much opposition and could not ask for the Constitution to be reviewed. 

Another fact which has been making Kishida’s temperature hotter is former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s death. It has resulted in an increase of 3% in voter turnout compared to the last elections. His death helped the LDP win votes since this is also Abe’s party. This increase of votes towards the LDP can be explained by two distincts effects: sympathy votes and the rally around the flag effects. These voters were essential to achieve the supermajority. 

Moreover, Shinzo Abe’s death created a power vacuum within the LDP. This has created an opportunity for Kishida to leave his own mark on his country’s politics. This is not something that he could have easily done when he had to work with Abe constantly looking “over his shoulder”. Until now, Kishida had been applying Abe’s main economic policies, also called Abenomics. Now that he distances himself from Abe’s shadow, he has the opportunity to put into place his own economic reforms. 

Additionally, since his election he has been strengthening Japan’s relations with other key regional actors. On the 18th of July Kishida met with Park Jin, South Korea’s foreign minister. The main goal of this meeting was to discuss possible cooperation on the matter of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). This visit is important for both leaders since this is the first time since 2019 that the South Korean foreign minister visits Tokyo. This is also very symbolic of a reconciliation between the two nations. Historically the relations between the two nations have been tense. 

These tensions date back to Japan’s occupation of Korea between 1910 and 1945. For the last decades, South Korea has been asking Japan for reparations due to forced labor during the occupation. Until now both nations could not come to an agreement on the matter. However, after the meeting both governments explained that they had been working extremely hard to find a desirable solution. These are the first necessary steps to improve the relationship between both nations. 

This is key since both countries need to present a united front against their common competitors: The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and North Korea. This is increasing Kishida’s temperature as it is helping him achieve his goal of creating more alliances to make Japan a more powerful player in the Asia Pacific. 

Kishida has also deepened the US-Japanese alliance. Firstly by increasing their military alliance. On the 6th of July, the US Air Force and the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) had an aerial exercise in the Pacific with fifty-two aircraft. This exercise took place as tensions between the PRC and Japan are escalating regarding territorial waters. In fact, in June, the Japanese government explained that they had recorded the longest violation of their territorial waters by two Chinese coast guard boats. 

When the exercise took place, they observed Russian and Chinese ships at the border of Japanese water, although no borders were violated. Kishida has been strengthening Japan’s alliance with the United States beyond military drills. This month both governments are due to  create guidelines for infrastructure investment in developing countries and human rights safeguard in supply chains.  

Besides trying to increase Japan’s defense through strategic alliances, Kishida has also been trying to reduce Japan’s external fuel dependency. This is especially essential now since last month, Tokyo was on the verge of a blackout due to a historical heatwave. After the elections, Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda participated in the first ever Quad energy meeting. For Japan this was an important meeting since the aim of this meeting was to increase Japan’s partnership with Australia, India and the US regarding carbon capture, utilization and storage, and carbon recycling. All of this in the aim to improve Japan’s energy security and decrease its dependence on fuel imports.  

What is driving Kishida ?  

Answer: Kishida wants to pass his domestic reforms and improve Japan’s defense. 

Kishida wants to increase Japan’s security due to the increasing tensions in the region. This year, the PRC sent planes into Taiwanese air defense zone. In June, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported that twenty-nine Chinese warplanes entered the country’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). The PRC is not Japan’s only security threat. Indeed, this year alone, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  has launched thirty-one missile tests. 

In order to increase Japan’s defenses, Kishida first needs to push for the review of the pacifist constitution. In fact, since Ukraine’s invasion LDP members have been pressing the issue and explained that some of Japan’s enemies such as the PRC could use this constitution for their own expansionary and security policies. For Kishida, winning the supermajority was the first step in achieving his party’s goal. If Kishida manages to change the pacifist clause it will help him fill the power vacuum that was created by Abe’s death. 

Increasing Japan’s defense goes beyond changing the Constitution. Indeed, another of Kishida’s driving forces is that he is trying to fortify Japan’s alliance with its allies. As mentioned before he is mending Japan’s relations with South Korea and increasing Japan’s relations with the United States. A more symbolic move is that Kishada assisted at the NATO meeting in June in Madrid. This was the first time that Japan participated in a NATO meeting. During this meeting some of the items at the top of the agenda included the growing tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Looking at domestic policies, Kishida has also been trying to implement his “new capitalism” reform. One of the ideas of “new capitalism” is to push Japanese customers to move their savings towards stocks and mutual funds. However, it has faced some criticism from investors. In view of these facts, it is essential for Kishida to have both parliamentary and popular support if he wants to push for such reforms. Without both he will have to continue to apply Abenomics

What does this mean for you? 

Answer: This election could change Southeast Asia’s dynamics

The removal of the pacifist article in the Japanese Constitution and Japan’s growing alliance with South Korea and the United States will change South-East Asia’s dynamics. With these new changes Japan could assume a more prominent opposing force in the region. Japan’s military would no longer be limited to acting in self-defense. This is especially important when it comes to Taiwan. In the case that China would invade Taiwan, Japan could not intervene

However, if Taiwan was to become part of mainland China then this would expose even more of Japan’s southern regions as their southern territorial waters would be completely surrounded by the PRC. The ratification of a new Constitution will allow Japan and its allies to intervene in Taiwan if China decides to invade the island. If China decides to invade Taiwan, Japan will not be at a complete disadvantage. 

Roxane de Bergevin

Research & Analysis Member