Fumio Kishida, Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker and former foreign minister, shows his notebook during a news conference as he announces his candidacy for the party's presidential election in Tokyo, Japan, 26 August 2021 (Photo: Reuters/Issei Kato).

Author: Aurelia George Mulgan, UNSW

Following Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s announcement that he will soon step down, one of the frontrunners for Japan’s premiership is Fumio Kishida, a politician who has long been waiting in the wings for the presidency of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Kishida made his first bid for LDP president and prime minister last year, only to be beaten by Suga.

Kishida ticks all the traditional boxes for holding the two top positions in Japanese politics. He has strong political and policy credentials. He is an LDP faction leader and a hereditary politician with a long political pedigree. Kishida is also a former cabinet minister, holding the position of foreign minister longer than any other Japanese politician in post-war history. He has also demonstrated substantial intra-party policy leadership as chairman of the LDP’s top policymaking body, the Policy Affairs Research Council.

Kishida’s ambitions have been demonstrated by a series of well-organised, widely publicised public policy pronouncements in recent weeks. These have included ‘reforming the LDP’ by removing the ability of those in top positions in the party to wield too much power for too long.

His specific target in this case was LDP Secretary-General and faction leader Toshihiro Nikai, a kingmaker originally appointed by Abe, who has served in the position for the past five years. Abe appointed him against the wishes of the Kishida faction in 2016, expecting Nikai to play an important role in smoothing opposition to policy initiatives coming from the prime minister’s office and blocking generational change in the LDP by denying Kishida.

The Nikai faction is a completely top-down organisation, with Nikai’s orders considered ‘absolute’ amongst its members. The core of Kishida’s political strategy is reportedly to remove Nikai, a polarising figure …continue reading