Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is breaking with custom actions and is continuing his activities as faction leader within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, in an apparent effort to solidify his grip on power.
It is customary in Japan for prime ministers from the party to distance themselves from their factions to ensure fairness, but Kishida, also LDP president, has already attended faction meetings twice since last month’s general election.
LDP factions usually meet over lunch every Thursday to exchange ideas and strengthen unity.
The practice of party presidents and secretaries-general leaving their factions began under the administration of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who was in office between 2001 and 2006.
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left his faction, the largest with 95 members currently, when he became LDP president and prime minister in 2006 and again in 2012. Kishida’s predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, has long been unaffiliated with any faction.
Kishida, whose faction is the fifth largest with 42 members, attended faction meetings on Nov. 11 and Thursday, where he called on them to support his government’s efforts to achieve a virtuous cycle of economic growth and distribution of wealth.
His continued faction membership came after some members complained that he had proceeded ahead with his LDP leadership race in consultation with only a small group of aides, according to a faction source.
A middle-ranking faction member said that Kishida’s attendance at faction meetings reflects his consideration for members, noting that “the prime minister wants everyone to understand his thinking.”
Others said that Kishida wants to keep a close check on Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, the second-in-command in the faction who has ambitions of becoming prime minister in the future.
If Kishida does not come to the faction, “Hayashi will have a bigger presence,” a cabinet member said.
While some in the faction welcome Kishida’s continued membership as a rare opportunity to speak with the prime minister, veterans warn him against showing up to faction meetings.
“It is not good to let rules fade away,” said a former cabinet member from the faction led by LDP Vice President Taro Aso.
At a press conference on Friday, LDP General Council Chairman Tatsuo Fukuda said he sees no problems with Kishida’s faction membership. “No questions have been raised about its fairness,” said Fukuda, a member of the Abe faction.