• Kyodo, staff report

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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has tapped longtime Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi to take the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s No. 2 post of secretary-general as speculation swirls about the Motegi’s replacement as Japan’s top diplomat.

Kishida will relaunch his Cabinet after the Diet convenes a special session on Nov. 10 and is expected to choose Motegi’s replacement as foreign minister by then. One candidate that has been floated is former education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, according to a person familiar with the matter. Another is former defense chief Itsunori Onodera, local media has reported.

Akira Amari assumed the role of LDP secretary-general only a month ago but offered to resign following his shock defeat in a single-seat district in Sunday’s general election, marking an unprecedented humiliation for a sitting LDP No. 2.

Motegi, who has been foreign minister since September 2019, said Kishida tasked him on Monday with implementing LDP reforms and drawing up a stimulus package to prop up the coronavirus-hit economy.

“I think it’s important that I make sure we can honor the trust invested in us by the people,” the 66-year-old told reporters after meeting with the prime minister at the LDP’s headquarters in Tokyo and accepting the appointment Monday evening.

The LDP will make the appointment official at a General Council meeting on Thursday, after Kishida returns from the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Former education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi thanks his supporters in Ube, Yamaguchi Prefecture, after winning a Lower House seat in the general election on Sunday. | KYODO
Former education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi thanks his supporters in Ube, Yamaguchi Prefecture, after winning a Lower House seat in the general election on Sunday. | KYODO

Among the contenders to replace Motegi, the Harvard-educated Hayashi — who speaks fluent English — is a senior member of Kishida’s LDP faction and made the move to the powerful Lower House with a win in Sunday’s poll after serving in the Diet’s upper chamber since 1995. Beyond his time as education minister, has also served in stints as economy, defense and agriculture minister.

Another possible pick is Onodera, who is also a senior member of Kishida’s faction, twice served as defense minister from 2012-2014 and again from 2017-2018, during which he helped deepen security ties with Washington.

Within the LDP, some have voiced caution over choosing Hayashi for the high-profile post, calling it “too soon” after his election to the Lower House, TV Asahi reported Tuesday, adding that calls have been growing for consideration of Onodera.

As for Motegi’s move, the shift appears to be a promotion since his most senior LDP post to date has been as chairman of the Policy Research Council, a role he served in twice. He is the de facto head of one of the seven major intraparty factions and backed Kishida in the LDP leadership race in September.

Former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera Onodera, is reportedly being considered to replace outgoing Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi. | REUTERS
Former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera Onodera, is reportedly being considered to replace outgoing Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi. | REUTERS

A graduate of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Motegi worked as a political reporter at the Yomiuri Shimbun daily and as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1993.

He was easily re-elected in his district in Tochigi Prefecture in the election for the 465-member Lower House, in which the LDP retained a majority.

Amari lost his single-member district in Kanagawa Prefecture to Hideshi Futori of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan but managed to secure a seat through proportional representation.

The 72-year-old resigned as economic and fiscal policy minister in January 2016 amid graft allegations, but opposition lawmakers have continued to criticize him for failing to provide a proper explanation.

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