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Editorial: LDP presidential election a platform to question credentials of Japan's PM

The date of the presidential election of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been decided. Campaigning will kick off on Sept. 17, and voting will take place on Sept. 29.

    The election will, essentially, determine the prime minister of Japan. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has indicated that he will seek reelection, while former LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida has also thrown his hat in the ring.

    Almost one year has passed since Suga took up the post of prime minister. The election must be converted into an opportunity to question anew the response to the coronavirus pandemic and the leader's political stance.

    The pandemic has revealed a gap between the perceptions of the administration and public opinion. Speaking at an Aug. 25 news conference on the coronavirus response, Suga stated, "We are beginning to clearly see the light." But this is far from how many members of the public perceive the situation. Kishida, meanwhile presented a critical view, saying that Suga has failed to connect with the public's understanding, but he also has presented very few new measures.

    Initially, the prime minister had envisioned a scenario in which he underscores Japan's staging of the Olympic Games and progress on COVID-19 vaccinations, before dissolving the House of Representative for a general election. His strategy was to then avail himself of the momentum of the circumstances to survive the presidential election.

    However, the spread of infections has not slowed, and Suga has come under pressure to revise his strategy. Support for his Cabinet has dropped to around 30%, placing him in perilous waters from the perspective of maintaining the administration. A general election must be held sometime this fall, and the LDP has suffered defeats in recent large-scale elections.

    In spite of this, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai has publicly declared that he will back Suga's reelection as party leader. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Taro Aso, who doubles as deputy prime minister and minister of finance, are also said to support Suga.

    But isn't this just the same as last year's LDP presidential election, when faction leaders created an avalanche of support for Suga? It can't be helped if conveniences of political factions are seen as receiving higher priority than the policies and quality of the party president.

    Unlike last time, party members and official party supporters will vote in the election, being allotted 383 total votes -- the same as the number allocated to Diet members. The election should be one in which the voices of party members who know the actual situation in local areas are sufficiently reflected.

    In addition to coronavirus countermeasures, the political stances of the candidates must also be questioned. This includes the response to the problems involving "politics and money" that have continued since the former administration of Prime Minister Abe, and the self-righteous approach making light of the Diet.

    Opposition parties concerned about the effects of a political vacuum have called for an extraordinary Diet session. The Diet should be convened as soon as possible to discuss enhanced coronavirus countermeasures and the financial resources for them.

    If the party president is merely selected based on the logic of the LDP's inner circle, then it will only become more distant from the public. The nature of the LDP as a responsible political party is being questioned.

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