Sunday, June 26

Taro Kono, the political maverick who could be the next prime minister of Japan | Japan

Taro Kono, Japan’s minister of vaccines and reform, who speaks directly and knows social media, is the pioneer to become the next leader of the country. Seen as a maverick in Japan’s serious political world, Kono has set his sights on shaking up the nation’s entrenched bureaucracy.

Kono has used your platform on Twitter – where his Japanese account has nearly 2.4 million followers and his English account nearly 50,000 – to reprimand public officials for working late into the morning and holding press conferences late into the night.

Former Shinzo Abe’s Foreign and Defense Minister, the ambitious Kono laid out his vision of how the nation should proceed in areas such as geopolitics, digitization, social security and education in a book titled Move Japan Forward, published last month.

While he was Defense Minister, he announced the cancellation of the Aegis Ashore missile defense system in June last year, allegedly causing consternation among LDP sections and military establishments over the lack of backroom consensus that often precedes such decisions. .

But despite his reputation for unpredictability, Kono hails from one of Japan’s many political dynasties, and radical changes on major issues would be unlikely during his tenure as prime minister.

His father, Yohei Kono, was president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) and deputy prime minister. His grandfather was the head of a powerful faction within the party in the 1950s and 1960s, while his great-uncle was Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 1970s.

After leaving the elite Keio University in Tokyo, Kono studied in the United States, where he honed his English skills and worked on Alan Cranston’s failed campaign to be the Democratic nominee in the 1984 presidential election. Japan spent a decade in business before winning a seat in 1996 in Kanagawa, south of Tokyo, which it has held ever since.

Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (R) speaks with Taro Kono (L) in the plenary session of the Lower House in the National Diet
Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (R) speaks with Taro Kono (L) in the plenary session of the Lower House in the National Diet Photograph: Yoshio Tsunoda / AFLO / REX / Shutterstock

Accepting faxes and failing

As minister of administrative reform since last September, Kono vowed to cut red tape and end the use of anachronisms like official faxes and stamps in the government and its agencies. The herculean task ahead was brought home when Kono announced in April that ministries should phase out faxes by June, unless there was a vital reason not to. Its administrative working group received more than 400 complaints from government entities that insisted that facsimile was indispensable. They are still widely used.

However, Kono’s penchant for outspokenness has won him public support and he led an opinion poll over the weekend with 31.9% on who the next prime minister should be. Behind him was another former Defense Minister, Shigeru Ishiba, with 26.6%, and another former Defense Minister, Fumio Kishida, with 18.8%. Seiko Noda and Sanae Takaichi, who compete to be Japan’s first female leader, recorded just 4.4% and 4%, respectively.

“The feeling that he is his man and speaking his mind works well with audiences, especially among young people,” said Jun Okumura, an analyst at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs. “Unbelievably, at 58, he is also the youngest among the candidates.”

Ishiba gave Kono’s chances a new boost this week by suggesting that he won’t enter the leadership contest.

The election for the presidency of the PLD, which effectively hands over the position of prime minister to the winner, will take place on September 29, with half of the votes cast by 383 deputies and the other half by local chapters of the party. It seems unlikely that Kono will get the required simple majority in the first round of voting, so it will then come down to a second round between the two main candidates.

“At that point, it is Kono who will lose,” Okumura predicted.

Then there will be general elections on November 30 at the latest, and the response to the pandemic will be the dominant theme. There too, Kono should be in good shape thanks to having been in charge of vaccinations. Despite a slow start, the vaccines have been delivered quickly and now more than 135 million doses have been delivered.

“The bright spot for the government is the vaccination program. They got a lot more vaccines than many expected and Japan has even been donating doses to countries like Taiwan, “Okumura said. “By the time the elections roll around, the vaccination rate in Japan is on track to surpass that of the United States and much of Europe. Kono will be a good representation of this. “

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