A series of opinion polls were conducted by various news outlets in the week following Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's September 13 Cabinet reshuffle. However, they show there is limited improvement in how the public rates the Cabinet.
Not only did his Cabinet shuffle and new Liberal Democratic Party appointments fail to gain strong support, but some measures remained unchanged or declined.
It will be challenging to improve these ratings. Consequently, within the ruling party, there is a growing sense of doubt about whether PM Kishida will call for dissolution of the House of Representatives and hold a general election in the autumn.
"It's important to remember that personnel changes are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. And their evaluation hinges on the results they yield," remarked Toshimitsu Motegi during a September 19 press conference. His comment was in response to a question on how he viewed the surveys as the Secretary-General of the LDP.
What the Surveys Say
A joint opinion poll was conducted by The Sankei Shimbun and FNN (Fuji News Network) on September 16 and 17. It showed the approval rating for PM Kishida's Cabinet dropped by 2.6 points to 38.9%. Those numbers are in comparison to the previous survey on August 19 and 20. The number of respondents expressing disapproval of the Cabinet reshuffle also increased by the same proportion, to 49.8%.
Among the six major news outlets, only the Asahi Shimbun and Kyodo News tallied an increase in the approval rate compared to before the reshuffle.
Asahi showed an increase of 4 points from the previous survey. Remarkably, Kyodo News showed a 6.2-point improvement in approval rating. The Mainichi Shimbun, however, saw a decline of 1 point compared to the previous survey.
Behind the Static Numbers
Problems with initiatives such as the "My Number Card" system are reasons given for the decline in approval ratings. Ongoing since June, it has dampened expectations within the government and the ruling party regarding the reshuffle's impact.
Despite efforts such as increasing the number of female Cabinet members to signal rejuvenation, the effect has been limited.
Prospects Calling for an Election
There are reports that, after the shuffle, Prime Minister Kishida suggested, "There are multiple possible timings for dissolution." However, members with prior ministerial experience are more pessimistic. "While it seems the decline in approval ratings has somewhat slowed," they note, "achieving a dissolution in the autumn at this level will be challenging."
On the other hand, the Cabinet's approval remained relatively unchanged in polls conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun and the Nikkei Shimbun. This hints at a potential stabilization in the heretofore declining ratings.
The Prime Minister has already expressed plans to implement economic measures in October. In doing so he is responding to factors such as rising prices. These measures directly impact people's lives.
Calculating When to Dissolve the Diet
Along with the prime minister's intention to communicate to the public the factors meriting consideration, this gives viability to the option of dissolving parliament in October. If it happens, it would be during the anticipated extraordinary October session.
In fact, the fiscal 2023 supplemental budget proposal includes these measures. However, the prime minister hasn't specified a timeframe for submitting that budget proposal to the Diet.
There are differing views within the ruling party. Some seasoned members caution against convening the Budget Committee for deliberations. They fear opposition criticism that could complicate a parliamentary dissolution.
Conversely, a senior party member has hinted at the possibility of dissolving the parliament after the supplemental budget proposal is approved. Potentially that would be in November.
Through the recent personnel reshuffle, the prime minister strategically positioned potential successors in crucial roles within the party and the Cabinet. That has the effect of "restraining" them through service into supporting his leadership. This move was executed with a clear focus on securing his re-election as the party president in the 2024 autumn leadership election.
As Kishida prepares for the leadership contest, he must continue to build a solid track record. He must also explore opportunities for dissolution.
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(Read the column in Japanese.)
Author: Tatsuhiko Tamura