May 31, 2023
TOKYO – Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s effective dismissal of his eldest son as secretary to the prime minister on Monday was likely an attempt to fend off public criticism of “going easy on his own people” and minimize damage to his administration.
There was public outcry when it emerged that 32-year-old Shotaro Kishida, who served as executive secretary to the prime minister in charge of political affairs, had held a year-end party at the prime minister’s official residence.
“I’ll fulfill my responsibilities by listening carefully to the voices of the people and strive to provide answers to each and every pressing issue,” Kishida said after announcing Shotaro’s replacement Monday night.
According to several government officials, Kishida announced his intention to remove his son on Monday morning.
The Cabinet’s approval rating had been on the rise in the wake of the May 19-21 Group of Seven summit held in Hiroshima, among other events.
However, when reports of the year-end party came to light in a weekly magazine, public opinion polls indicated a halt in momentum, with The Nikkei Shimbun showing a drop of 5 percentage points from late April to 47%, while The Sankei Shimbun and FNN logged a 0.3-percentage point drop to 50.4%
The government and the Liberal Democratic Party were reportedly concerned that the scandal could negate the uplifting effect of the summit.
Kishida has a mountain of problems to tackle — such as dealing with key bills — before the end of the current Diet session on June 21.
This apparently led him to conclude that replacing his son was unavoidable.
A source close to Kishida explained, “The prime minister made a cool-headed decision based on his belief that trust in the administration is the most important thing.”
Initially, there had been some optimism within the Prime Minister’s Office that the year-end party issue was not serious enough to force Shotaro’s removal.
Some suggested that Shotaro be replaced as part of a Cabinet reshuffle scheduled to occur after the end of the current Diet session.
Last Thursday, the prime minister appeared to let Shotaro off the hook with only a severe reprimand, telling reporters, “It’s deeply regrettable if there was a lack of propriety that caused public distrust,” and exhorted his son to “act with a sense of urgency.”
However, it became difficult to shake off perceptions of impropriety after photos were released showing Shotaro posing with guests on a red carpet — believed to be at the West Staircase, where Cabinet members line up beside the prime minister for a commemorative photograph following a Cabinet’s inauguration — and one guest lying on the staircase.
A further blow was that the prime minister himself had shown up at the party and greeted the guests.
There had been strong criticism of Shotaro’s appointment as the prime minister’s secretary.
In January, Shotaro was reported to have used official cars for private sightseeing while accompanying the prime minister on an official overseas trip.
There was a burgeoning sense of crisis within the government that Kishida would be unable to escape criticism if he was seen as favoring his “own people.”
No retirement fee
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters Tuesday that Shotaro does not intend to receive a retirement fee or bonus when he leaves his post Thursday.
“He contacted us to say he would return all allowances if a retirement fee, term-end allowance or other bonus were to be paid,” Matsuno said.