Prime Minister Fumio Kishida signaled on Monday that he will pursue defense policies aimed at deterring China, address climate change and accelerate the recovery from the pandemic.
Kishida’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party defied predictions and held onto its single party majority in Sunday’s Lower House election, solidifying his position as head of the fractious party and giving him a freer hand in the Diet, with the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic — including an extra budget — taking priority.
Some had feared that Kishida, only in power for a month, would become another one of Japan’s short-term prime ministers, but the election results — which set stocks surging in relief — will allow him to put his own stamp on policies ahead of an Upper House election next summer.
The LDP’s solid victory in the election also eased market fears of massive bond issuance because it will likely take pressure off Kishida to inflate the size of a pandemic-relief stimulus package.
“We will speedily implement policies to respond to the voices of the people we have received nationwide that strongly desire political stability and policy implementation,” the prime minister said at a news conference Monday.
Key among those will be measures aimed at ensuring a recovery from the pandemic, with Kishida pledging to work toward an extra budget by the end of the year, look into restarting a travel subsidy program to revive domestic tourism and compile a “large-scale” stimulus package around mid-November.
But he also placed emphasis on defense in a nod to the more hawkish views of those in the LDP who supported him in his run for leader, which could become trickier given the electoral gains made by the dovish junior coalition partner Komeito.
The LDP included an unprecedented pledge to double defense spending to 2% of gross domestic product in its party platform, reflecting its haste to acquire weapons to deter China’s military around disputed islands in the East China Sea.
“When we think about protecting people’s lives and livelihoods, a budget should not come first,” Kishida said.
“We need to think about what is really needed for that end. I’d like to proceed with this debate carefully so that I can gain Komeito’s understanding.”
Kishida added that Japan needs to consider the capability to strike enemy bases as an option to counter improving weapons technologies in other nations.
“What’s important is making checks constantly to see if a system is in place to protect people’s lives and livelihoods amid a changing international situation and advancing technologies,” he said.
The prime minister, who spoke of “personal diplomacy” during the campaign, wasted no time kicking that off by announcing he would leave for Glasgow, Scotland, and the COP26 climate summit on Tuesday for his face-to-face debut at an international conference.
Saying his stimulus package would include investment in clean energy and funding aid to Asia, he also expressed hope that Japan will take a leadership role on achieving zero emissions in Asia.
Japan has set a target of 2050 for becoming carbon-neutral, and Kishida believes — despite considerable public opposition — that nuclear energy should remain an option.
While initial exit polls on Sunday suggested the LDP would have to rely on Komeito to keep a majority, the conservative party — in power for all but a few years since its founding in 1955 — instead won a solid majority of 261 seats on its own.
The party did take some notable hits, including a loss by LDP Secretary-General Akira Amari in his single-seat district.
Amari will resign, with his replacement, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, to be confirmed at a party meeting on Thursday.
Voters took the results in their stride.
“This is pretty much as I expected, though I thought there might be a bit more of an impact from their handling of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Satoshi Tsujimoto, a 53-year-old office worker. He did not vote for the LDP.
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