Kishida’s support ratings rise, focus shifts to chances of an early general election
The conclusion of an expanded Group of Seven summit in the western Japanese city of Hiroshima was the last of a series of foreign policy wins for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that has bolstered his domestic ratings, which is feeding speculation that he will dissolve parliament and call a general election.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s surprise visit to the summit was widely reported in Japan as an example of Kishida facilitating discussion on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is one of the most significant geopolitical risks facing the global economy.
Inviting Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the summit also displayed the Japanese government’s will to expand debate and include emerging market countries in the Southern Hemisphere, recently known as the Global South, in acknowledgment of their rising influence on the global economy.
By hosting the G7 in Hiroshima and using the Atomic Bomb Dome, which is one of the only structures left standing after the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city almost 80 years ago, as a backdrop for his closing press conference, Kishida sent a powerful visual message to the world about the costs of war and won approval from domestic supporters of Japan’s pacifist approach to global affairs.
The G7 leaders’ final communique, issued a day earlier than expected, included stronger language about the importance of peace across the Taiwan Strait and a condemnation of North Korea’s launch of several ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan that were not in last year’s communique, so Kishida can say he convinced G7 countries to express their concern about the significant risks that lie at Japan’s doorstep.
Japan’s courting of foreign semiconductor companies has also borne fruit. Micron Technology Inc and other chip makers are planning to invest billions of dollars into manufacturing their products in Japan and into training future semiconductor engineers. This is significant because Japan could regain the share it has lost in the global semiconductor market as G7 countries draw up plans to diversify their supply chains away from China.
In the months leading up to the G7 summit, Kishida managed a surprise visit to Ukraine to meet Zelensky and became the first Japanese prime minister to travel to South Korea in five years when he met South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in Seoul earlier in May. Japan also invited Yoon to attend the G7 summit as an observer as the neighbouring countries seek to improve ties.
The latest round of public opinion polls show an increase in support for Kishida after the G7 summit, but the biggest question political journalists are trying to answer is how Kishida will use this increase in approval ratings.
One argument is that Kishida should dissolve the lower house either before the current session of parliament ends on 21 June or sometime later this year and hold general elections to capitalise on his recent foreign policy gains. In his public statements so far, Kishida has ruled out this option. This may be prudent, because some Japanese political analysts say this approach could easily backfire because Japanese elections tend to be won or lost on domestic policy, and Kishida’s domestic policy record is less convincing.
Kishida has been in office for less than two years and has so far struggled to provide new ideas for solving some of Japan’s long-standing problems, such as the declining birth rate, a rapidly ageing society, low wage growth, and the loss of corporate competitiveness.
In by-elections held last month for five parliamentary seats, Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost one seat in the lower house. The LDP won the remaining four votes, but one victory was by a margin of less than 400 votes, which highlights the risks when you do not have an abundance of positive messages about domestic policy to communicate to voters.
By Stanley White, Director