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Former communications minister Sanae Takaichi announced Wednesday that she is running for Liberal Democratic Party president in the Sept. 29 election. Her policy platform borrows heavily from that of her strongest political ally, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is supporting her bid.

In a detailed news conference laying out her goals that was heavy on the coronavirus and economic and technological issues, Takaichi promised increased financial support to tackle the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and spoke of the need for tougher laws to allow the government to enact the kind of lockdowns during a public health crisis that other countries have seen.

“I will enact large amounts of financial assistance to firms affected by the coronavirus so they can maintain their business foundation,” Takaichi said. "Quick efforts are also needed to discuss new legislation to allow lockdowns."

She also said that in order to reduce NHK user fees, she’d pursue cost cuts at the public broadcaster and reforms at NHK subsidiaries.

Takaichi, a hawkish conservative running for the first time, faces a tough campaign. Younger LDP members, who may vote independently of their faction leaders’ wishes, are calling for a popular leader to improve their own chances in a general election later this autumn, but she has performed far worse than other expected candidates in recent polls on who the public wants to be the next prime minister.

It is therefore unclear how many of the 96 members in Abe's faction will follow his lead and support her. But Takaichi’s political ideology is closest to Abe’s among those running so far, which is one reason he’s backing her. Her candidacy is also seen within the LDP as more of a step by her and Abe toward building a coalition of like-minded party members for the subsequent general election.

Then-internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi arrives at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office in Tokyo in September 2019. | REUTERS
Then-internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi arrives at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office in Tokyo in September 2019. | REUTERS

Takaichi — who first entered politics in 1993, representing a mostly rural district in Nara Prefecture that includes the city of Tenri — has long been a close ally of Abe and has served under him in various posts. In 2006, she joined Abe’s first Cabinet as minister for Okinawa and the Northern Territories, and she became the LDP’s first-ever policy research council chair in 2012 — after the party returned to power with Abe as leader again — with the position giving her control over party policy in the Diet.

The leadership contender, who is aiming to become Japan’s first female prime minister, announced her candidacy last month with an article in the Bungei Shunju magazine. Her economic policy, which she has dubbed “Sanaenomics” after Abe's Abenomics, is very similar to her ally’s economic philosophy, she said in a TV interview Friday.

The proposals set out in the article and at Wednesday’s news conference included easing credit restrictions, government funding for crisis management and the promotion of economic growth in a number of areas, especially emerging technologies. She also proposed nationalizing corporations in times of emergency to manufacture necessary goods, such as medicines and supplies to combat a pandemic.

Takaichi, a strong supporter of nuclear power, criticized Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s plans to ramp up the use of renewables in the coming years, especially solar power, as being quite risky due to the possibility of weather damage affecting power supplies. Instead, she said that small, underground nuclear reactors are practical, and that rapid investment in electricity transmission grids and battery storage is also needed.

She also called for tougher laws and regulations that would make it harder for foreign firms to buy Japanese companies and sell or merge them. Another proposal, for an economic security law, would make it more difficult for technologies developed at Japanese research institutes to be taken out of the country and used by foreign governments and their militaries.

Takaichi favors tighter visa controls for foreign university researchers involved in joint projects with Japanese companies and universities that are considered sensitive and where access is restricted. She has suggested a visa screening process similar to those employed in the U.K., France and Italy.

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