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Politics & Security

Post-Kishida: In Need of Conservatism and Positive Financial Policies

Consideration of post-Kishida options is called for as opinion polls show the Kishida administration's approval falling into dangerous territory.

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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. November 21, 2023 (© Sankei by Ataru Haruna)

The approval rating for the Kishida Cabinet continues to slip. Meanwhile, people are already beginning to think about the next race for president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). What should we be looking for in the "post-Kishida" era? 

A public opinion poll conducted by Kyodo News over November 3-5 showed that support for the Kishida Cabinet had slipped by 4.0 percentage points (ppt) from October to 28.3%. Similarly, a poll carried out by Japan News Network, or JNN, on November 4-5 showed the support level plummeting 10.5 ppt to 29.1%. 

A later Sankei-FNN poll taken November 11-12 shows support for the Cabinet down 7.8 ppt month-on-month to 27.8%. Likewise, an NHK poll conducted November 10-12 showed the Cabinet's favorable rating off by 7.0 ppt to 29%.  Meanwhile, a Jiji Press survey taken between November 10 and November 13 put support at 21.3%, off 5.0 ppt from October. 

The same trend was seen in a Mainichi Shimbun poll taken November 18-19 in which support was down 4.0 ppt from October to 21% and a Yomiuri Shimbun poll taken November 17-19 showing Kishida's support off a whopping 10 ppt to 24%. 

The Cabinet's approval rating in all of these polls came in below 30%. Furthermore, the favorability rating in at least some of these polls is on track to fall below 20 percent.

PM Fumio Kishida, Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno bow after approval of the the FY2025 supplementary budget. November 24, 2023. (© Sankei by Ataru Haruna)

Is The LDP Itself At Risk?

Nevertheless, if the LDP's approval rating remains high, the so-called "Aoki ratio" should not easily fall below 50 percent. Such a development would put the survival of the administration in peril. The "Aoki ratio" is a formula originally proposed by Mikio Aoki, former LDP chairman in the House of Councillors. It consists of the sum of the Cabinet approval rating and the party approval rating. 

Moreover, some surveys show the LDP's approval rating also declining to where it has already entered the danger zone. Since the Kishida administration has already announced economic policies it hoped would revive its sagging fortunes, there really is not much more it can do. 

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If a national election were to be held soon, "Kishida's ouster" would be a foregone conclusion. But barring dissolution of the House of Representatives, a general election is not in the offing. 

In that case, the Kishida administration should theoretically last until the next scheduled LDP presidential election in September 2024. However, in reality, Kishida has become a lame duck. Therefore, "post-Kishida" developments are likely to proceed under the radar. If that is so, were Kishida to step down before his term expires, the major party factions could settle on his successor as temporary president through traditional "horse trading." That would happen without the party members or friends of the party voting. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a policy speech at a plenary session of the House of Councillors on October 23.(©Sankei by Takumi Kamoshida)

Options for a Post-Kishida Path

There is apparently some sentiment within the mainstream factions that the "post-Kishida course should be settled by the end of 2023." Admittedly, that view is on extreme end. However, that option would also find favor with the Ministry of Finance

The thinking is that the sooner Kishida steps down, the better. That way, the next prime minister can build a solid track record. In this thinking, his successor would use this momentum as a new prime minister to dissolve the House of Representatives and then win the election. All of this would happen before the next LDP presidential election. 

However, the question remains what degree of support there would be for the Cabinet of this new prime minister? The answer depends on how you evaluate the current drop in support. 

One question is whether the defection of the rock-solid conservatives has spread to the middle class or whether the defining issue here is dissatisfaction with Kishida's economic policies. 

If the former is the case, then a post-Kishida "return to conservatism in diplomacy and security" would be called for.  If the latter is the crux of the problem, then that would seem to call for someone seen as capable of controlling the Ministry of Finance and, for example, being the advocate for aggressive fiscal policies.

Perhaps a candidate who both pursues a return to conservatism in diplomacy and security and is also a staunch advocate for aggressive fiscal policies would be a successful choice in the post-Kishida era.

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(Read the report in Japanese.)

Author: Yoichi Takahashi

Yoichi Takahashi is a professor at Kaetsu University. He formerly served as a special advisor to the Cabinet.

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