Surprisingly, new Japanese prime minister to call elections on October 31 – NHK
- Kishida officially becomes the 100th Prime Minister of Japan
- New PM plans general election on October 31 amid drop in COVID cases
- Pandemic policies, additional budget pledged under new government
- Abe teams up to secure critical cabinet positions
TOKYO, Oct.4 (Reuters) – Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida traded punches with lawmakers after being formally elected by parliament on Monday, as public broadcaster NHK said he was on the point of dissolving the body next week and calling elections for October 31st.
The surprise move, amid widespread expectations for a November poll, appears to be aimed at exploiting a traditional honeymoon period given to new governments and a sharp drop in the number of coronavirus infections.
Outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga enjoyed a support rate of around 70% shortly after taking office about a year ago, but was battered by criticism of his handling of the pandemic, leading him to make way for a new face to lead the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) through elections.
Kishida, 64, a former foreign minister with an image of a low-key consensus builder, beat three candidates last week for the party’s head and will become prime minister because he holds a majority in parliament.
He is expected to dissolve parliament on October 14 and will announce the elections at his first press conference as prime minister later on Monday, NHK television reported.
The new secretary general of the ruling party, Akira Amari, told reporters that although he had heard nothing for sure, he believed Kishida would go in that direction.
“Kishida is wasting no time at all,” Tobias Harris, senior researcher at the Center for American Progress, said on Twitter.
“Oct 31 puts the opposition on its heels, enjoy a honeymoon in the polls, plus a better chance of lowercase numbers.”
Harris added: “If he wins comfortably in the general election and can hold things well enough to win the upper house election next year, he will be up to three years without an election.”
Kishida’s poll decision was likely influenced by not wanting to repeat a mistake made by Suga, who did not call an election while his support was still strong, analysts said.
“I think he aims to organize the elections before the general atmosphere (towards the new cabinet) cools off,” said Zentaro Kamei, senior researcher at the PHP Institute.
THE SHADOW OF ABE
Later Monday, Kishida is expected to unveil a cabinet made up of allies of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, securing the influence of the latter’s conservative base. Read more
Of the 20 positions, 13 will be filled by people with no previous ministerial experience, in line with Kishida’s commitment to give opportunities to new people, but the majority of prominent positions will go to Abe’s allies or the minister of the Finances outgoing Taro Aso.
“He won the elections with the support of Abe and Aso, so now is the time for him to reciprocate, now is not the time for him to cut them,” said political analyst Atsuo. Ito, adding that Kishida tended to prioritize safety over bold action.
One of Abe’s closest is Amari, who pledged a big extra budget after the election, told reporters on Monday that measures should be included to improve social divisions and COVID-19.
“It’s not just Japan, but divisions in society have grown during the coronavirus pandemic and a lot of people are worried,” Amari said.
“So we have to empathize with people and share their pain and our leader has to show the way to unite society and remake it.”
His low-key brother-in-law, Shunichi Suzuki, is set to replace Aso, who is seen as likely to continue the government’s policy of restraining growth spending with tax reform.
Other positions for Abe’s allies are the Commerce and Industry portfolio, which will be held by the current Minister of Education, Koichi Hagiuda, close to Abe.
Abe’s brother, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, will retain his post, as will Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
There are three women in the lineup, one more than Suga, but none of them hold a weight portfolio.
Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Ju-min Park, Chang-ran Kim and Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Clarence Fernandez
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