Newly installed Liberal Democratic Party chief Fumio Kishida officially unveiled the ruling party’s new executive lineup Friday, elevating a close ally of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the No. 2 role while also naming a junior lawmaker, Tatsuo Fukuda, to lead the party’s highest decision-making body in a move some described as reckless.
Kishida tapped former trade minister and influential 12-term lawmaker Akira Amari, who belongs to the party’s Aso faction, to be secretary-general. Amari, 72, is close to both Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso and is a champion of the Abenomics economic policy package. He also played an important role in Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and is known as an expert in tax policy, having served as the chair of the party’s Research Commission on the Tax System.
Kishida cited Amari’s ability to negotiate and integrate various opinions within the party as a credential for his appointment.
Speaking at a news conference Friday evening, Amari said, “I’d like to lead the party by firmly supporting party President Kishida’s philosophy of running the party with vibrancy and openness and appointing a diverse range of people from all generations.”
Fukuda, a 54-year-old three-term lawmaker and a member of the Hosoda faction, the party’s largest and effectively led by Abe, was appointed as the party’s general council chairperson. Fukuda led a group of junior Diet members who had demanded that faction executives let lawmakers vote freely in the presidential election. It has been presumed that many junior lawmakers voted for Taro Kono in Wednesday’s election but Fukuda voted for Kishida.
“My job is to listen carefully to the opinions of the members of the general council, members of the Diet, rank-and-file members and the people nationwide; and apply them to the LDP management,” Fukuda said.
Later Friday, Kishida made his case for bringing in Fukuda to the leadership group, saying his appointment was to “complete the reform of the LDP with me.”
Fulfilling his pledge to give important positions to his rivals in the leadership contest, Kishida nominated former internal affairs minister and eight-term lawmaker Sanae Takaichi to be the party’s policy council chairperson, a role she previously held. It’s believed that many lawmakers who backed Takaichi, 60, in the first round shifted their votes to Kishida in the runoff in a bid to gain his favor.
But the news wasn’t as rosy for another Kishida election rival — Taro Kono.
Kono, the vaccine chief who was the public’s No. 1 pick to be Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s successor, is set to become the head of public relations. Kono is well-known for his social media presence and the appointment might have taken his social media savvy into account, but it is considered to be a significant demotion considering his past Cabinet posts, including tenures as foreign and defense minister.
“I am hoping Mr. Taro Kono will use his ability to persuade the public, which is my weakness, help me out and work together to tackle the general election and other challenges,” Kishida said, explaining his decision.
In other appointments, former Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo, a 71-year-old eight-term lawmaker and a member of the Tanigaki group, was named as the election strategy committee chairperson after running Kishida’s leadership campaign. The Aso faction is apparently eager to absorb the Tanigaki group.
Tsuyoshi Takagi, a Hosoda faction member who has experience dealing with parliamentary maneuvering, is set to become Diet affairs chief.
Aso will become the party’s vice president, which is essentially an honorary post, while trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama, who isn’t affiliated with a faction, is set to take the position of deputy secretary-general.
Kishida’s picks will bring a new generation of politicians, particularly Fukuda, into critical leadership positions. With the general election in the pipeline, the new party president, who will be nominated as prime minister on Monday, is eager to demonstrate that the LDP has been “reborn” in a bid to woo the public.
However, unlike past party presidents who had appointed members of their factions or someone close to them to important party positions, Kishida declined to give any of his faction’s members integral roles.
Many LDP lawmakers and political observers saw that as excessive consideration for Abe and Aso, the party’s two primary kingmakers.
Although Abe backed Takaichi and Aso gave Kono, a member of his faction, his blessing to take part in the race, many in the Hosoda and Aso factions endorsed Kishida ahead of the vote and many of them are believed to have cast their ballot for Kishida in the runoff with Kono. That may have caused Kishida to feel indebted to the pair of influential former prime ministers.
Kishida could risk angering his own faction unless he satisfies them with Cabinet posts on Monday.
”I have chosen people based on the perspective that the right person is in the right place at the right time,” Kishida said Friday afternoon. “I’m sure there will be people who take a look at this lineup and say various things. … But I’m hoping to make persuasive explanations on future appointments, explaining why I chose this person and what I want to ask this person to do to show they are being placed in the right position.”
Kishida was the first to enter the party’s leadership race and openly championed shaking up the party’s executive. He proposed imposing a term limit of up to three consecutive years and promoting young and mid-level lawmakers over heavyweights, even at the risk of provoking the party’s powerful Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai.
Fukuda’s appointment as general council chairperson is the epitome of Kishida’s party reform endeavor. Nevertheless, the selection has already caught the attention of skeptics, who question whether the junior lawmaker can take charge of the party’s highest decision-making organization, a group that has a final say in legislation and personnel.
Since a governing principle of the role is to obtain unanimous consent, including from senior lawmakers, the job carries enormous responsibilities and is usually reserved for experienced lawmakers. Fukuda, whose father and grandfather were prime ministers, has never served in Cabinet.
“I believe it’s going to be laborious,” a mid-level LDP lawmaker said Thursday evening on the condition of anonymity.
Amari, the new secretary-general, acknowledged the job will be “challenging” for Fukuda but argued it’s part of an effort to build the next generation of talent.
“Although (the general council) is the body that makes the final decisions, it’s the process of making those decisions that must be taken into account,” Fukuda said. “I think this is where the importance of politics lies. Politics is said to be about taking responsibility for consequences, but I believe that the process leading up to those results is extremely important.”
Kishida’s first Cabinet will be unveiled Monday, but some reports have already emerged on the makeup of the lineup.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi of the Takeshita faction is believed to be staying in his current position while Hirokazu Matsuno, a member of the Hosoda faction, is said to have been nominated for chief Cabinet secretary.
Former Environment Minister Shunichi Suzuki of the Aso faction is reportedly set to become finance minister while Daishiro Yamagiwa, also of the Aso faction, is expected to take over the trade ministry.
Many of them had Cabinet-level jobs or high-ranking titles within the party while Abe was prime minister.
“This has become the Abe Cabinet with Kishida being a facade,” criticized Jun Azumi, the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party’s Diet affairs chief.
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