Japan. A nation composed of islands, nestled in Eastern Asia, with a population of nearly 127 million. Toting the world’s third largest Gross Domestic Product, behind only the United States, and China; Japan is an economic powerhouse. As a leader in modern innovation, through technology and manufacturing, Japan still manages to simultaneously maintain their historic monarchy and an intricate, modernized government.
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister announced his resignation on Friday, August 28th, due to health complications from a chronic condition called Ulcerative Colitis (UC). Information provided on an established healthcare organization’s website (mayoclinic.com) gives a brief description of UC as, “an inflammatory bowel disease that causes long-lasting inflammation and sores in [your] digestive tract.” This can have life-threatening complications. What does this mean for the nation of Japan during such an international state of emergency? Who will be the next successor for the role of Prime Minister? This is the race for Japan’s Prime Minister.
There are two major political parties in Japan. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) currently holds the most legislative power, with twice as many representatives and councillors than that of the second most popular party, the Democratic Party of Japan (284 representatives versus 120; 113 councillors versus 61, respectively). Mr. Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister of eight consecutive years as of September 2020, is a long-standing member of the LDP. Historically, the LDP has been known as the more “conservative” party. There are three, established fundamental components of this platform: reforming Japan’s institutions in a way that best promotes a democratic society; from an international relations scope, securing Japan’s sovereignty on the basis of peace and freedom; and putting economic policies into effect that encourage corporate freedom and individual creativity. All of these work in conjunction to formulate a national, pacifist party that has committed itself to creating a welfare state (Liberal Democratic Party). The Democratic Party of Japan’s (DPJ) principal goals include: Building an accepting society where members can coexist; putting emphasis on the importance of recognizing those who work in the public sector, and continuing to promote justice and fairness in society, and boosting economic growth. In addition, ensuring that the government understands the general public, maintaining the spirit of the constitution (emphasizing pacifism, but also advocating for human rights), and protecting Japan, while still spreading prosperity to the world.
Holding Japan’s most coveted legislative position is no small feat. Japan’s Prime Minister is elected by the “National Diet,” a name given to their parliament, which is composed of elected officials in two chambers; the House of Representatives, and the House of Councillors (this set-up is similar to that of the United States Congress). While both chambers are critical for maintaining a functioning government, the House of Representatives holds more legislative power. The “Diet” works together on four critical roles: enacting laws, making national finance decisions and managing the budget, approving international treaties, and appointing the Prime Minister (library of congress). The Prime Minister’s duties also have four critical roles: the power to appoint and dismiss Ministers of State (examples include the state Minister for Foreign Affairs, and State Minister of Justice), “represents the cabinet in submitting bills to the Diet, reports to the Diet on general national affairs and foreign relations, and exercises control and supervision over various administration branches” (Fundamental Structure of the Government of Japan, 2007).
Recently, the Diet passed a 2.8 trillion dollar stimulus package for the following provisions: “Increased medical spending, assistance to companies struggling with rent payments and more subsidies to companies enduring drop-offs in sales” (2020, Yamaguchi, Kajimoto). With less than 80,000 confirmed cases, and only a 4% positive rate from those who have been tested (roughly 1.7 million), Japan remains successful in their containment strategy.
‘Abenomics,’ a term coined by the Abe administration during his 2012 campaign for Prime Minister has five major components for building a more successful nation. Innovation in Societal Structures, meaning a heightened focus on making technological advancements in public transportation, healthcare, agriculture, and finance. Diversity and Empowerment of People, aiming for equality in building a stronger workforce, through more accessible education for low-income families, expanding opportunities for seniors to continue contributing to the workforce, and providing incentives for abroad professionals to immigrate to, and establish a career in Japan. Smart Regulations and Laws, to meet the booming new-business market with appropriate safeguards, along with the promise to significantly cut down on carbon emissions. Attractive International Opportunities, increasing global-appeal for tourism in Japan, export potential for health-conscious Japanese food, creating a prodigious trade partnership agreement between Japan and the European Union (finalized in 2019), as well as the United states (in 2020). More Competitive Business, expanding the market for start-up businesses, requiring established communications between investors and corporations (signing into effect a Corporate Governance Code, and Stewardship Code), and reducing taxes for corporations.
Abe’s successor will have numerous obstacles and once elected, is in for quite an eventful term. An ongoing pandemic, natural disasters such as typhoons and heatwaves that have hospitalized thousands, the daunting task of restoring the economy, and a delayed Olympics are just a few examples. Often, in the case where a PM steps down, the next appointed PM would be the next leader-in-line as voted on by the majority party House of Representatives. Three candidates from the LDP party were on the ballot for election. Ishiba Shigeru, who has held “Ministerial positions in Defense, and Agriculture, as well as being chair of the LDP Research Council” (Nippon.com); Kishida Fumio, who has held two Ministerial positions as Ministerial for Special Missions and for Consumer Affairs; and Suga Yoshihide, current Chief Cabinet Secretary, nicknamed as Mr. Abe’s “right-hand man” and held a previous position of Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications.
On September 14th, an election among cabinet members took place in order to determine who would become the successor for Shinzo Abe. Knowing whichever candidate wins the majority of votes will have big shoes to fill, seeing as though this decision will shape the future of Japan in the midst of so many other struggles. The Diet was eager to elect front-running candidate, Yoshihide Suga. With 377 votes for yes, Mr. Suga earned over four times the amount of confirmation votes than the second place runner-up, Kishida Fumio who received 89 votes. Ishiba Shigeru came in last place, with 68 votes. Prime Minister Suga has dedicated his term to fulfill the aspirations of the previous administration, with special emphasis on bolstering the economy. Adding his own personal touch, Prime Minister Suga vows to install a cabinet that “works for the people,” considering his working-class family background during childhood. While this defeat was by a large margin, Mr. Suga will need to go above and beyond his duties for the next 12 months, in order to secure his position as Prime Minister for the September 2021 election.