Kishida will have to challenge the odds of Japanese political longevity


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Over the past few days, various friends in Tokyo have described – or acted upon – a sudden urge to okonomiyaki. In particular, they want the Hiroshima-style version of the savory pancake, which has a daily noodle base, a humble egg wreath, and gargantuan social media fame after Yuko Kishida cooked one for dinner last Wednesday. .

She did so within hours of her husband, Fumio, winning the leadership race of the ruling Liberal Democrats. This means he will succeed Yoshihide Suga as Prime Minister of Japan: a country where ordinary people enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world, but where prime ministers last about two years on average. war, roughly the same lifespan as a Western mosquito. Few considerations about a new prime minister, says the chairman of one of Japan’s biggest companies, matter more than their chances of beating those odds.

Despite all the hopes of a real fall for the top spot or even a change of generation of power, Kishida’s victory was a spectacle scripted, acted out and launched on screens by the traditional politics of the LDP machine. It’s a show that has been running in a more or less constant loop since 1955. The photo of the lovingly prepared okonomiyaki was, in this cynical backdrop, the edited subliminal cut into the reel to put Japan unwittingly enslaved to the relatability of its last coxswain. That folkloric glow can still be warm, calculates the PLD, when the country votes in the legislative elections for the lower house this year.

As usual with shifts at the top of one of the world’s largest economies and financial markets, there’s a big scramble to figure out what this will mean for business, which beloved policies Kishida is most likely to push ( while he can), what arc of macro narratives he could evoke and what he will do for the external perceptions of a stock market dependent on the sentiment of strangers. These questions will intensify this week once the new cabinet is appointed. Analysts say the initial focus of the markets will be how a leader surrounded by choice of finance bureaucrats formulate a promised stimulus package worth tens of billions of yen and handle a post-Covid reopening.

But already, a number of senior executives say, companies are having internal discussions about what else a Kishida administration might try. The new prime minister seems serious about pressuring or inducing Japanese companies to raise wages, which could put him on a collision course with the Keidanren business lobby. Its no-okonomiyaki the social media posts were aimed at introducing revisions to the quarterly reporting rules that could make them optional rather than mandatory. He also proposed additional changes to the corporate governance code that would encourage companies to focus on the broad interests of stakeholders, rather than narrow ones.

Businesses can welcome these changes; investors would see it as an attempt to reverse the momentum of pro-governance reform of the past six years. Kishida also spoke of a new style of capitalism and a rejection of the neoliberal policies that Japan adopted in the mid-2000s. A prominent CEO told me that Kishida’s thinking on wealth redistribution “gives me chills “.

But business leaders are wondering how relevant this is if Kishida doesn’t have obvious weapons to beat the stats? And are there, at this point, good signifiers of a manager’s potential longevity when a medium-term business strategy can, depending on the averages, expect at least two first changes? minister before being completed?

Part of the problem lies with Shinzo Abe, the kingmaker behind Kishida’s victory who was the longest-serving Japanese prime minister when he stepped down in 2020 with a record 3,186 days in office. In addition to skewing the overall average, Abe’s longevity succeeded in persuading the corporate, bureaucratic, political, and diplomatic spheres that after many years there was a Japanese prime minister who could survive a mosquito fish of company. It was, say the inhabitants of these four spheres, a transformative function that required new assumptions about the extent to which a given WP’s plans and commitments should be relevant.

Suga’s sole year in charge, given the quirks of the pandemic, could be considered an anomaly. The mechanism by which Kishida was installed strongly suggests that the old ways of the PLD are back, and with them the propensity for ephemeral rulers. So Kishida is the real test of whether Abe has put political longevity averages on an upward trajectory. Otherwise, we just have to wait until 2023 to find out what is the next Prime Minister’s favorite dish, ready for Instagram.

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