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Japan’s new premier to call election on taking office

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Fumio Kishida walks to cast a vote to elect the new prime minister at the Lower House of the Parliament in Tokyo, Japan October 4, 2021. REUTERS-Kim Kyung-Hoon

Japan’s new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, exchanged fist bumps with lawmakers after he was formally elected by parliament on Monday, as public broadcaster NHK said he was set to dissolve the body next week and call an election on Oct. 31.

Earlier in the day, Kishida unveiled a cabinet line-up featuring stalwarts of the ruling party and allies of former prime minister Shinzo Abe and ex-finance minister Taro Aso.

NHK said Kishida would announce the election date in his first news conference as prime minister at 9:00 p.m. (1200 GMT), and dissolve parliament on Oct. 14.

His plan to call for an election so quickly was regarded as a surprise, even though one has to take place by Nov.28, as parliament’s term ends on Oct. 21.

Aside from taking advantage of the honeymoon period usually given to new governments by the electorate, analysts said Kishida probably didn’t want to lose time, given the risks posed by the pandemic.

“He will likely want to preempt any further deterioration in the COVID-19 situation,” Corey Wallace, an expert in Japanese politics at Kanagawa University, told Reuters.

“While the progress of the vaccination campaign has clearly helped suppress the fifth wave, we can’t be absolutely sure that a sixth wave will not occur getting closer to winter,” he added.

New coronavirus cases in Tokyo on Monday totalled 87, the lowest since Nov 2 last year.

Kishida’s predecessor Yoshihide Suga enjoyed support ratings of about 70% soon after taking office a year ago but was pummelled by criticism of his handling of the pandemic, leading him to make way for a new face to lead the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) through the election.

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Fumio Kishida walks to cast a vote to elect the new prime minister at the Lower House of the Parliament in Tokyo, Japan October 4, 2021. REUTERS-Kim Kyung-Hoon

Japan's newly-elected Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vows after being chosen as the new prime minister, at the Lower House of Parliament in Tokyo, Japan October 4, 2021. REUTERS-Kim Kyung-Hoon

Japan's outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga holds a bouquet of flowers as he leaves the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Japan, October 4, 2021. REUTERS-Issei Kato

Japan's former prime minister Shinzo Abe attends a session to elect Japan's new prime minister at the Lower House of the Parliament in Tokyo, Japan October 4, 2021. REUTERS-Kim Kyung-Hoon

Lawmakers attend a session to cast a vote to elect Japan's new prime minister at the Lower House of the Parliament in Tokyo, Japan October 4, 2021. REUTERS-Kim Kyung-Hoon

Japan's newly-elected Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is applauded after being chosen as the new prime minister, at the Lower House of Parliament in Tokyo, Japan October 4, 2021. REUTERS-Kim Kyung-Hoon

Kishida, 64, a former foreign minister with an image as a low-key consensus builder, beat out three contenders last week to lead the party and was formally elected premier by parliament on Monday.

ABE’S SHADOW

Kishida’s cabinet features allies of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving premier, who quit last year citing ill health as his dream of another term faded, though Suga inherited his stance.

Of the 20 posts, 13 were filled by people with no prior cabinet experience, in line with Kishida’s pledge to give chances to new people, but the majority of heavyweight jobs went to allies of Abe or outgoing finance minister Taro Aso.

“He won the election with the support of Abe and Aso, so now it’s time for him to return the favour, it’s not the time for him to cut them off,” said political analyst Atsuo Ito.

One of those closest to Abe is Amari, who has promised a big extra budget after the election, and told reporters on Monday it would need to include steps to ameliorate social divisions and COVID-19.

“So we need to empathise with the people and share their pain and our leader needs to show the path to unite society and to make it one again,” Amari said.

Aso’s replacement at the finance ministry is his low-profile brother-in-law, Shunichi Suzuki, who is viewed as likely to continue the government’s policy of tempering growth spending with fiscal reform.

The trade and industry portfolio was also given to another ally of Abe, current education minister Koichi Hagiuda.

Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, who is Abe’s brother, retained his position, as did Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, reflecting Kishida’s intention to continue Abe and Suga’s push to boost the nation’s defences, strengthen security ties with the United States and other partners including the QUAD grouping – Japan, India, the United States and Australia – while preserving trade ties with China.

Kishida also created a new post of economy security minister and filled it with a close ally of Amari, the architect of policies aimed at protecting sensitive technology from China in areas such as supply chains and cyber security.

There are three women in the line-up, one more than Suga had, but none of them holds a heavyweight portfolio.

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