Osaka – With Fumio Kishida having won the Liberal Democratic Party presidential race thanks to the backing of many veterans, younger party members who preferred his main rival Taro Kono will have to wait until next time to get their chosen candidate into office. For the moment, the LDP and the nation are looking ahead to a new government under Kishida as prime minister and a general election, which is now just weeks away.
In the first round of the presidential election Wednesday, LDP chapters in Kyoto, Hyogo and Osaka prefectures went for Kono, not Kishida, who finished second. In Nara, Kishida finished third, behind Takaichi — Nara is her home prefecture — and Kono, who also won all of Kansai in the decisive second round.
But the Kansai prefectural vote tallies aside, much of the Kansai corporate community, like it’s Tokyo-based cousin the Japan Business Federation, better known as Keidanren, preferred Kishida to Kono. Partially, this was due to his energy policy — the presumptive prime minister is a more enthusiastic supporter of nuclear power than Kono.
Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kepco) has much influence in the Kansai corporate world, and thus the political one too. Kepco senior executives run many of the area’s main corporate lobby groups, and they draft economic and regional development strategies for Osaka and the rest of Kansai that local politicians often pass in municipal and prefectural assemblies. Whether it was Osaka’s failed 2008 Olympic bid, its successful 2025 World Expo bid or a host of grand construction projects over the years backed by public funding — some of which have failed spectacularly — Kepco tends to get whatever it wants politically as well as economically.
Kepco is also aggressively pro-nuclear power. Before the March 2011 Tohoku quake and Fukushima triple meltdown shuttered the nation’s nuclear power fleet, almost half of Kansai’s electricity came from nuclear power, despite the fact it only supplied about a third of the nation's electricity as a whole.
One can easily imagine how anxious and concerned Kepco executives would be if they had to send notes of congratulation addressed to the noted nuclear power skeptic and antagonist “Prime Minister Kono,” instead of the more nuclear power-friendly “Prime Minister Kishida.” Kono’s well-known resistance to nuclear power and enthusiasm for switching to renewables is exactly the policy mix that Kepco, heavily invested in nuclear’s continuation for the foreseeable future, does not want.
In addition to nuclear power, there is the question of international trade. Kansai has strong economic connections to the rest of East Asia. While recognizing the need to stand up to China on many issues, Kansai firms doing business with China have never been happy with younger — or sometimes older — LDP hawks who use inflammatory rhetoric. And everyone wants Chinese tourists to return to the region once the COVID-19 crisis ends.
Kishida is expected to take a practical, realistic approach to China, and his policies will be shaped by defense and security needs. He will defend Japan’s interests, no doubt, even if it risks China’s wrath. But Kansai leaders expect he will be careful to try and avoid diplomatic spats with other nations that could lead to economic tensions.
Kishida’s international profile may also be a plus for Osaka as it looks ahead to the 2025 World Expo. Kishida, a former foreign minister, has the international contacts needed to help convince other nations to exhibit and send large delegations.
Of course, some local LDP Diet members running in the upcoming general election may have preferred the more publicly popular Kono, so as to help with their re-election campaigns. But for many in the party, Kishida represents safe, stable and secure leadership — something that, in a time of uncertainty and economic hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic, may prove to be more popular among voters when they cast their ballots in November.
View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.
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