Fumio Kishida got to work as the new prime minister on Tuesday, a day after taking office and forming a Cabinet to meet challenges including reviving an economy battered by the pandemic and preparing for a possible sixth wave of COVID-19.
"I would like to speedily respond to various challenges," he told reporters before holding a meeting with his ministers.
Kishida has vowed to implement a "new capitalism" that focuses on boosting economic growth and redistributing the fruits of that to increase middle-class incomes. An economic package worth "tens of trillions of yen" is in the works to support people and businesses reeling from the pandemic, he has said.
First, he will need to steer the Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition to victory in a general election that will take place Oct. 31.
Kishida told a news conference Monday he will dissolve the Lower House on Oct. 14, with the campaigning period to start on Oct. 19.
The election date announced by Kishida is earlier than speculated, apparently reflecting the prime minister's hope of capitalizing on an initial popularity bump after taking the top job and the improving COVID-19 situation.
The election, which comes as the current four-year term of Lower House members expires on Oct. 21, will be held with Japan free of a COVID-19 state of emergency for the first time since April, as vaccinations have progressed and the infection situation has stabilized.
In fixing the election date, Kishida also took into account the planned marriage on Oct. 26 of Princess Mako and her boyfriend Kei Komuro, sources with knowledge of the prime minister's thinking said.
Arrangements had been underway for Kishida, a former foreign minister, to make his diplomatic debut as prime minister at a summit meeting of the Group of 20 on Oct. 30 and 31 in Rome, but he will skip the gathering, according to sources familiar with the plan.
Instead, he plans to attend U.N. climate change talks in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 1 and 2, when leaders are scheduled to meet, the sources said.
When it comes to fighting COVID-19, Kishida needs to work urgently on securing enough medical capacity amid concerns that a sixth wave of infections may hit the country this winter, pundits have said.
Kishida is apparently eyeing the possibility of revising the infectious disease law to enable authorities to take binding measures in terms of securing medical personnel and hospital beds.
Also being studied is a plan to amend the pharmaceuticals and medical devices law to put unapproved vaccines and drugs into use quickly in case of an emergency.
Opposition parties, meanwhile, are concerned about a potential rebound in public support for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party after its change of leader.
"(Kishida) is forcing it through but we will take up the challenge," Jun Azumi, the Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), said of the decision to quickly go the polls.
"He dominated media coverage throughout the (LDP) presidential election and is now attempting to call an election before his true nature is revealed," Azumi said.
The opposition party is struggling to differentiate itself from Kishida, whose wealth redistribution goal is also shared by the CDP.
The ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito hold a majority in the powerful Lower House, and Kishida has said he will aim to maintain that in the upcoming election.
A strong mandate from voters will give Kishida's Cabinet — which is full of fresh faces, with 13 of its 20 members taking a ministerial post for the first time — greater freedom to pursue his policies.
Kishida appointed Daishiro Yamagiwa as economic and fiscal policy minister, while putting Takayuki Kobayashi in a new post charged with economic security, including preventing a technology drain from Japan.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi were retained, while Shunichi Suzuki, a former Olympics minister, was named finance minister.
Kishida is set to deliver a policy speech and answer questions from party leaders in the Diet in the coming days before heading into the general election.
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