Japanese Politics Updates – April 28, 2024

Play Video about Japanese Politics One-on-One #168, Japanese Politics updates April 28, 2024

Welcome to the 168th episode of Japanese Politics One-on-One produced for you by Langley Esquire and Japan Expert Insights. Golden Week began for many people in Japan yesterday. Moving forward, here’s what transpired over the last week:

Today is Election Day

The results will be out today. The Prime Minister will not follow-through with snap election. The LDP didn’t even bother to put in a candidate for open seats in the Nagasaki No. 3 and Tokyo No. 15 districts because the politicians who held those seats were forced to resign (from politics!)… Both from the LDP. On the other hand, everybody expected that the seat for Shimane No 1, held by former Speaker of the House and the former leader of (what is now known as the Abe Faction) Hiroyuki Hosoda, to be solidly LDP territory.

How it all began

However, this whole commotion behind the kickback scandal began while Hosoda was leader of that faction. When Abe resigned as Prime Minister, then was assassinated, the members of his faction continued the scheme despite Abe’s wishes. This team that made that decision are precisely those who received all the repremands before Kishida left for the US. In fact, 90 LDP members admitted and actually submitted the amount of money they received, and revised their tax filings. But it was essentially a slap on the wrist. Only 39 eventually received reprimands. Only two received the most stern punishment: a recommendation to leave the LDP. Mr. Seko, Secretary General in the Upper House within the Abe faction, resigned from the LDP immediately. The other, Mr. Shionoya, rejected the reprimand but last Wednesday the Reform Council ejected him from LDP. He must run as an independent in the next LH election.

The Candidates in Shimane

In any event, today’s elections will determine a lot. The LDP has already conceded in Nagasaki and Tokyo. Even in important Tokyo, out of 9 candidates running, not a single LDP candidate! The Nagasaki race is between the Constitutional Democratic Party and Nippon Ishin no Kai. In Shimane, the LDP is vying against the Constitutional Democratic Party. This is not only a fight for the LDP candidate Norimasa Nishikori, a bureaucrat from the Internal Affairs Division, but one that pits the LDP against the main opposition party.  Their candidate, Ms. Akiko Kamei, comes from a political heritage. Her father used to be a chief political figure in the LDP until he opposed PM Koizumi over the Postal Service privatization… and left the LDP as a result, not only in protest, but to start his own party! Ms. Kamei is not a novice, either. She has run a couple and won several times (lost her set, too). So it will be surprising if the LDP pulls a rabbit out of the hat in Shimane. But then again, you never know: this is politics in Japan.

The Yen Hits Yet Another Record Low

We’ve reported on this in the last three episodes. The yen fell 4% over just the last two weeks and 10 % over the past 90 days. Japan and Korea’s Finance Ministers in Washington DC, both going through the same issue, cajoled Janet Yellen to take drastic action but were essentially told, “just bide your time. Don’t do anything on your own. This needs to be a coordinated effort. Chill!”. The yen will continue to weaken.

Kishida Continues to Push for Political Reform

Remember PM Kishida said he will propose revising the Political Control Funds Act? Just so this kind of mistake never happens again. And since the LDP is in a coalition with the Komeito Party, together these two enjoy a majority in both Houses. Komeito came up with a draft of demands for the LDP to integrate into the reform proposal. Pretty stringent ones, too. The LDP draft resolution came out this week: it was considerably weakened. So not only are the opposition parties criticizing the Draft, but so is Komeito! Passing off blame, the PM said the issue is now with a Reform Council he set-up and “they are working on it. Let’s see what the Council comes up with.” He promises to update the law this Diet session which ends on June 13th. The LDP wants a bit more leniency and plausible deniability. Komeito insists on Members taking responsibility (not passing-off blame on Treasurers and Accountants) and guilt-by-association. So there’s a bit of in-fighting going on.

Shimane By-Election

What will happen to Kishida in the event of the likely loss of all three seats? With ratings down: Jiji press puts Kishida’s popularity at around 16% (it’s most likely lower). If there was a vote today in a general election, the LDP could actually lose the majority. All of this discussion we’ve had about a snap election perhaps in light of the LDP defeat during the by-election, that’s not a good choice. The PM cannot close down the House after doing poorly today… that would cause an avalanche.

Kishida-Motegi Dynamics & Future LDP Presidency

There’s been bad blood during the Kishida Administration. PM Kishida and Secretary General Motegi do not work well together, maybe even not on speaking terms. In this triumvirate, the role of Deputy PM Aso was critical, especially since there was no reliable single individual representing the Abe Faction. And now, Aso is also furious with the PM so Mr. Kishida seems to be alone, no longer even relying on the other two to run the government; calling his own shots. With a poor showing today, Mr. Motegi might either resign or be fired by the PM but either way, something is going to happen as a consequence of the LDP losing these races.

The vectors are not looking good for the LDP in general and the question becomes: what does the prime minister do? Of course, it is his goal to stay in office as long as he can, after all. In point of fact, Kishida has been in office for 933 days. With another 308 days, he will succeed the 7th longest-serving Prime Minister of post-war Japan: Nobusuke Kishi (father of the LDP!). Kishida still has a way to go until then. Yet the more he reforms the LDP, the less the rank-and-file members are going to love him. Keep in mind that Kishida’s position as LDP President ends in September. Even if he successfully continues to be LDP President thereafter, it does not necessarily mean he will continue to be PM. Lots of turbulence to be anticipated in the coming weeks and months.

End of Current Diet Session

The end of this Diet session is coming up in mid-June… not far away. I mentioned earlier that Mr. Shionoya and Mr. Seko (were forced to) resigned from the LDP. Mr. Seko’s seat is in Wakayama, the same prefecture as Mr. Nikai. To escape any reprimand, recall that Nikai promised to not run for election again (after 14 terms!). Well, he just announced that his third son is going to replace him when he resigns. He will probably take over the Nikai faction, which hasn’t disbanded yet. However, Mr. Seko wanted to jump from the UH to the LH (because the PM never comes from the UH): he wants that position. With him now out of the LDP, tainted from the scandal, he has several things going against him. He will probably try to stay in the UH for the time being but again, you never know: it’s Japanese politics!

The Moriyama Faction

The Moriyama Faction submitted formal papers to officially disband to the Internal Affairs Agency. Out of all the factions, this particular one was the ONLY faction untainted by the kickback scandal! The Motegi Faction, on the other hand, met this week to “transition”, not disband. Mr. Motegi announced in his breakfast briefing that the faction will “reform”. And that is that.

Kishida visits France, Brazil, and Paraguay

As we slide into Golden Week, Kishida will be in Paris, then Brazil and Paraguay on a State Visits. This is an important piece for him. He was the longest-serving foreign minister, as you know. Whenever there is trouble at home, go abroad.

Inbound Tourism

Tourists are flooding into Japan as you might have noticed. For the sixth straight month, the numbers of tourists in Japan have exceeded pre-pandemic levels. The tourism agency has decided to go upscale and focus on high-spending tourists, who only represent 1% of the tourists who come and yet contribute to 14% of the revenue generated. With everybody going to major cities such as Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo, this shift in focus may provide an opportunity for the Japanese government to push more development more towards the rural areas. Couldn’t happen soon enough.

North Korea Rocket Developments

North Korea tested a new range of rockets this past week. There are no reports of missiles flying over Japan, but testing of various missiles are continuing to gain momentum in North Korea.

Anthony Blinken in China: Indo-Pacific Diplomacy & Tensions

As you may know, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited China for 3 days. He went to Beijing on the last day for tough critical talks as you can expect. This is actually progress in light of other things that are happening such as the US Coast Guard in Vanuatu and the Philippines Coast Guard challenging Chinese fishing boat incursions. The hope is that the discussions will continue at the highest level so things stay peaceful and not escalate any further. Tensions are nevertheless growing.

Questions poised during the 168th Japanese Politics One-on-One session

  • This dynamic between Motegi and Kishida is very interesting. Is there a chance for Motegi to quit (thus casting blame on the PM)? If he resigns, will that help him position himself better for the presidential election of the LDP in September?
  • Seko is set to leave the UH with the intention to run for the presidency of the LDP. What is the timeline for that? Who else has switched Houses to do this? Who has been successful at it?
  • What is your stance on the situation of Ms. Obuchi?
  • Do you foresee a widening wealth gap in the next decade or two in Japan?
  • The yen fell past 158 yen to a dollar on Friday. What are your thoughts or comments about this? Are there possibilities that the BOJ will intervene this time around?
  • I believe, Mr. Langley, that PM Kishida will be kept beyond September, particularly if President Biden requires the power of Hiroshima. Does this mean the non-use of nuclear weapons is prioritized?
  • This visit by Aso to Trump is very intriguing. Do you sense this is considered “insurance” by the PM? And did you hear about Trump’s gift to Mr. Aso?
  • Who is better for Japan: Biden or Trump?

If you gain insight from these briefings, consider a tailored one for your Executive Team or for passing-through-Tokyo heavyweights.

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