New Japanese leader bets on quick poll victory to revitalize economy

In a Japanese election that has struggled to generate public enthusiasm between uniform candidates making similar campaign promises, Kiyoto Tsuji is an outlier.

Having spent half his life in Canada and the United States, the 42-year-old father-of-two has built his support around his multicultural roots and promises of generational change even as his Liberal Democrats have struggled. hard to project a different image under Fumio Kishida. .

The new prime minister is betting on a quick electoral victory on Sunday to secure public office and a solid foundation to rejuvenate a stagnant economy still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tsuji, who grew up in Vancouver before attending Columbia University, is one of the luckiest LDP applicants. In what analysts have declared to be one of the most difficult electoral battles for the PLD in nearly a decade, the former deputy foreign minister is running against four opponents in Tokyo’s 2nd constituency.

In many other constituencies, his fellow parliamentarians face only one opponent after the Japanese opposition parties finally manage to unite in an attempt to break the dominance of the PLD.

Kiyoto Tsuji, left, who grew up in Canada, sees Sunday’s election as a chance to “change the way we do things” © Rodrigo Garrido / Reuters

All five opposition parties fielded a unified candidate in 213 of the 289 single-member constituencies. Only 1,051 candidates – the lowest on record – are vying for 465 seats in the lower house of the Diet. Women represent less than 20% of runners.

“I think we will have a more difficult time than in previous elections where there were more choices to be made,” Tsuji said before delivering his stump speech to a small crowd gathered in the rain last week.

“But for me, this election will be a springboard for our generation to change the way we do things in Nagatacho [Tokyo’s version of Capitol Hill]. We need more diversity, ”added Tsuji, who renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2000 to pursue a political career in Japan.

Tsuji, who was raised by a single mother, lobbied for broader support for childcare services and a strengthening of Japanese foreign policy to deal with China’s rise to power.

The LDP has long benefited from the disarray of Japanese opposition parties. But the new found unity makes the opposition a more formidable prospect this year.

Even the PLD heavyweights and cabinet members, such as new Secretary General Akira Amari and Kenji Wakamiya, Minister of World Expo 2025 in Osaka, could be in a close one-on-one fight.

The ruling party faced a crisis over the summer as public support for then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga collapsed in the face of his mixed handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Support for the LDP has recovered slightly since then, as Covid-19 cases have fallen sharply and vaccination rates have exceeded those in the US and UK.

As Kishida won the LDP leadership race this month by providing stability and continuity, he faces the challenge of reviving the fastest aging nation in the world that is stuck in near-permanent deflation.

Voters are seeking clarification on how his promises of a “new form of capitalism” will differ from the aggressive monetary easing and economic stimulus program of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

His goal of a fairer distribution of income also echoes the position of the opposition camp, blurring the lines of debate between the contending parties.

“I don’t feel Prime Minister Kishida’s determination to change the PLD,” said Mayumi Sakuma, a voter in her sixties based in Tokyo. “My life hasn’t really improved under Mr. Abe and I feel like the LDP needs to be punished this time around.”

A mother-of-three in her 30s, who only gave her last name to Hayami, also struggled to muster any enthusiasm for the ruling party.

“I don’t feel like there is much change under Prime Minister Kishida,” she said. “So I do not support the LDP but I vote for Mr. Tsuji because he is part of the younger generation raising children.”

Kishida has set the bar low for the ruling coalition of the PLD and Komeito, the centrist party and its longtime partner, simply aiming to retain majority control over the 465 seats in the lower house.

Recent polls are divided as to whether the LDP can maintain control on its own by securing 233 seats. If he does not, analysts said the prime minister’s position ahead of the upper house elections next year would be in jeopardy.

According to the latest poll by the Asahi newspaper, the LDP, which has 276 seats, is expected to win 251 seats, but could win up to 279. The Komeito is expected to win up to 37 seats.

Despite the unified strategy, the main opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which has 109 seats, is expected to win only between 94 and 120 seats.

“The feeling of crisis within the PLD seems to be easing since there is 99.9% no chance of a change of government,” said Masatoshi Honda, political analyst. “But there is a risk that no real winner will come out of this election.”

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