• Jiji, Kyodo


For Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, fleshing out his policy pledge to provide handouts to people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is the first hurdle he needs to clear to get his administration on track.

Kishida dissolved the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of parliament, only 10 days after he took office on Oct. 4 — the shortest such period in postwar history. With the election in the rearview mirror, the prime minister is now getting down to the mounting tasks facing him, from pandemic countermeasures to diplomacy.

On Thursday, one month into his tenure, Kishida told reporters that his government will implement policies quickly, after his mandate was confirmed in the Oct. 31 election for the Lower House.

Kishida positioned handouts for citizens at the center of a large economic package that his administration will prepare in mid-November.

Sources close to the matter said the government and ruling parties are considering providing ¥100,000 each for children age 18 or younger in an attempt to ease the fallout from the pandemic.

Without any conditions on income levels, up to 20 million children will be eligible for the benefit, which would require around ¥2 trillion at a time when Japan is already saddled with the most debt of any major industrialized nation, totaling more than twice the size of its economy.

Some members of Kishida's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, especially those who prioritize fiscal discipline, continue to question such spending policies, criticizing them as disruptive.

The party did not offer concrete financial promises in its manifesto for the general election. Instead it pledged to provide "financial support for nonregular workers, women, families with children and students."

However, the LDP's junior coalition partner, Komeito, proposed a blanket handout of ¥100,000 per person for children under 19 years old. The party also pledged to give reward points worth ¥30,000 per person to holders of the My Number social security and taxation identification card.

The two parties may oppose each other on the issue, and Kishida's management skills will be tested as a result.

It wouldn't be the first time the two ruling parties have clashed on pandemic-related relief measures.

In April last year, the government decided at a Cabinet meeting to provide a benefit of ¥300,000 to households suffering financially from the coronavirus crisis.

Kishida, who was the LDP's policy chief at the time, touted the move.

But then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe abruptly changed course at the urging of Komeito, instead offering a blanket ¥100,000 handout to all residents in a decision that proved to be an embarrassment for Kishida.

More handouts were a key policy in Komeito's manifesto for the general election and the party says the issue is non-negotiable.

Yuzuru Takeuchi, Komeito's policy chief, said on Twitter that the blanket handout for children will be provided in cash.

Among other policy challenges, the Kishida administration has to come up with an overview of COVID-19 countermeasures in the first half of this month.

Kishida has promised to ensure by the end of November that all people who need to receive medical treatment can be hospitalized, and he also needs to work on his pledge to make oral COVID-19 drugs available by the end of the year.

The prime minister faces other difficult tasks in the area of diplomacy, including revising the national security strategy with a focus on the issue of whether Japan has the ability to attack enemy bases.

Sources said Kishida, who is concurrently serving as foreign minister after Toshimitsu Motegi left the post to become LDP secretary-general, decided to appoint former education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi as foreign minister when he forms a new Cabinet on Wednesday.

Hayashi, well-versed in many policy issues, has held other key government posts, including time as defense chief and agriculture minister.

As foreign minister, Hayashi's urgent tasks will be to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and build a stable relationship with China, which is growing its influence in the economic and military fields.

Kishida needs achievements to win public trust by next summer before the triennial election for the House of Councillors, the upper chamber of the Diet.

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