Japanese parliament elects ex-diplomat Fumio Kishida as new prime minister

Japan’s parliament elected former foreign minister Fumio Kishida as the new prime minister Monday.

Mr Kishida replaces his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who resigned with his cabinet earlier in the day.

The new prime minister and his cabinet will be sworn in later in the day.

He replaced Mr Suga as head of the Liberal Democratic Party leader last week, and is tasked with quickly tackling the pandemic and other domestic and global challenges as well as leading an imminent national election within weeks.

Mr Suga leaves after only one year in office after seeing his support plunge over his government’s handling of the pandemic and his insistence on holding the Olympics as the virus spread.

A former foreign minister, 64-year-old Mr Kishida used to be known as a dovish moderate but turned hawkish apparently to win over influential conservatives in the party.

He is firmly entrenched in the conservative establishment and his victory in the party election was a choice for continuity and stability over change.

All but two of 20 Cabinet posts under Mr Suga will be replaced, with 13 newcomers appointed to ministerial posts for the first time, Japanese media reported.

Most of the posts went to powerful factions that voted for Mr Kishida in the party election. Only three women are reportedly included, up from two in Mr Suga’s government.

Mr Kishida supports stronger Japan-US security ties and partnerships with other like-minded democracies in Asia, Europe and the UK, in part to counter China and nuclear-armed North Korea.

He will also create a new cabinet post aimed at tackling economic dimensions of Japan’s national security, appointing 46-year-old Takayuki Kobayashi, who is relatively new to parliament.

Japan faces growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, which last month test-fired ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets in Japan.

Mr Kishida also faces worsening ties with fellow US ally South Korea over historical issues even after he struck a 2015 agreement with Seoul to resolve a row over the issue of women who were sexually abused by Japan’s military during the Second World War.

An urgent task at home will be turning around his party’s sagging popularity, hurt by Mr Suga’s perceived high-handedness on the pandemic and other issues.

Mr Kishida is expected to make a policy speech later this week before dissolving the lower house of parliament ahead of the general election expected by mid-November.

He will also have to ensure Japan’s health care systems, vaccination campaign and other virus measures are ready for a possible resurgence of Covid-19 this winter, while gradually normalising social and economic activity.

Mr Kishida said last week that his top priority would be the economy. His “new capitalism” is largely a continuation of Shinzo Abe’s economic policies. He aims to raise income of more people and create a cycle of growth and distribution.

A third-generation politician, Mr Kishida was first elected to parliament in 1993 representing Hiroshima and is an advocate for nuclear disarmament.

He escorted former American president Barack Obama during his 2016 visit to the city that, along with Nagasaki, was destroyed in the US atomic bombings in the closing days of the Second World War.

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