Faced with falling approval ratings and one year remaining in his term as president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his cabinet and the LDP’s leadership on August 3. The change offered him a chance to boost support for his government and strengthen his position heading into a year that could feature contentious debates over constitutional revision and the burden of Japan’s ever-growing government debt.
On Friday, August 4 Sasakawa USA held a private policy lunch talk with the Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Schlesinger and Sasakawa USA’s Economy, Trade, and Business Fellow Tobias Harris, who discussed the ramifications of the cabinet reshuffle for Abe’s premiership, his security and economic policies, and the future of the LDP.
Starting the discussion, Harris interpreted the reshuffle as an attempt by Prime Minister Abe to recover lost trust from the Japanese public and establish a more serious, result-oriented administration. According to Harris, the reshuffle marked the rise of the new Chairman of Policy Research Council for the Liberal Democratic Party, Fumio Kishida, as the party’s potential next leader. Thereafter, Schlesinger said that the reshuffle represented a new form of stability which Japanese people have demanded. He emphasized that the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election in July, in which the LDP lost most of its seats to Yuriko Koike’s Tokyo Residents First Party, showed that Abe’s political power had weakened. Schlesinger pointed out that as Abe continues to fight for structural economic reform through Abenomics, including fighting with interest groups and the bureaucracy over deregulation, he will face a tradeoff between recovering his political power and achieving of his goal of constitutional revision. Schlesinger concluded his presentation by praising Abe’s successful diplomacy, which improved Japan’s position in the world by elaborately navigating the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.
The lunch concluded with a question and answer session in which participants asked about the necessity of the cabinet reshuffle, the new cabinet’s trade policies, gender equality in the new cabinet, and prospects for the Democratic Party’s upcoming election for a new leader.