kawamoto4_Eugene Hoshiko - PoolGetty Images_fumio kishida Eugene Hoshiko - Pool/Getty Images

Japan’s Post-Abe Trust Crisis

With his approval rating in free fall, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is struggling to boost economic growth and recover from major political scandals. If Kishida wants to regain the public’s trust, he must break with the ruling party’s gerontocracy and modernize Japan’s government bureaucracy.

TOKYO – No one could have foreseen that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s popularity would nosedive so soon after the Liberal Democratic Party triumphed in July’s election to the Upper House of the Japanese Diet. Until recently, Kishida’s government received consistently high approval ratings. But the LDP’s links to a controversial religious group, along with the costly state funeral of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, have shaken Kishida’s political base, endangering the country’s fragile economic recovery.

The two main causes of Kishida’s declining approval ratings are interrelated. After Abe was assassinated during a campaign event in Nara in July, news outlets reported that his killer had a personal vendetta against the Unification Church, the religious movement whose extensive connections to LDP lawmakers are now at the center of a major political scandal. The LDP’s ties to the Unification Church and the controversy surrounding Abe’s state funeral have caused many to lose faith in the government.

Kishida’s unpopularity comes at a time when public trust is needed to fight inflation. That is bad news for Japan’s economy, which has recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic more slowly than most developed economies. Japan’s GDP returned to pre-pandemic levels in the first half of 2022, one year later than the United States. And while the country’s consumer price index increased by more than 2% for five consecutive months – a steep rise by Japanese standards – aggregate demand remains too weak to allow the Bank of Japan to reverse the ultra-loose monetary policy it has maintained since Abe launched his economic program (dubbed “Abenomics”) in 2013.