TOKYO: The largest faction in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party may see an internal leadership struggle and lose its influence within the party, after the death of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who led the faction, observers say.
The faction lacks an Abe successor candidate who is expected to be unanimously approved by its members, and it has a history of splits resulted from leadership struggles.
The traditionally conservative faction currently has some 90 members, or about a fourth of the party’s lawmakers.
Ryu Shionoya, 72, former chairman of the LDP’s General Council, and Hakubun Shimomra, 68, former chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, are acting leaders of the faction now.
Other prominent members include Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, 59, former economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, 59, and industry minister Koichi Hagiuda, 58, as well as Hiroshige Seko, 59, chairman of the faction in the House of Councillors and the LDP’s secretary-general in the upper chamber of the Diet.
Upper House lawmaker Seiko Hashimoto, 57, was a faction member before she left the LDP to serve as the head of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics organizing committee. She has returned to the party.
Shimomura, who has similar political beliefs to Abe and has also served as chairman of the LDP Election Strategy Committee, has once been mentioned by the former leader as his successor candidate.
However, Shimomura is prone to controversial remarks. On Monday, the day before Abe’s funeral, Shimomura made a comment warning Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, also president of the LDP, against alienating conservatives when he reshuffles the cabinet and the party’s executive team.
Some are calling for Hagiuda, who was one of the closest allies of Abe, to be the next faction leader. Hagiuda has assumed a series of key government and party posts and achieved a reputation as a coordinator. He is also on good terms with party heavyweights such as former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, a former leader of the faction, and LDP Vice President Taro Aso.
Nonetheless, Hagiuda leading the Abe faction might provoke a backlash from veteran members, as he has so far been elected to the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet, only six times.
Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, 63, the younger brother of Abe, also belongs to the faction. But there are concerns about his health condition.
Former Prime Minister Mori has once said the faction is marked by a “history of breakup and secession.”
In 1991, Hiroshi Mitsuzuka and Mutsuki Kato fought over control of the faction after the death of its leader at the time, Shintaro Abe, the father of Shinzo. The battle resulted in Kato being expelled from the faction.
In 1998, Shizuka Kamei and Takeo Hiranuma left the faction after competing with Mori for the faction leadership. Hidenao Nakagawa also quit the faction after having a disagreement with Mori over the 2008 LDP presidential election.
One former cabinet member who does not belong to any LDP faction said that although the only person who could manage the faction is Hagiuda, he has lost his major backer, Abe. “All that can be done is to make (the candidates) compete under a collective leadership system,” the former cabinet member noted.
“Anyway we want to prioritize unity,” Seko said on a television program Monday. “We are not in a situation where we can decide (the faction’s new leader) now. We’ll take a breather and decide while consulting (with related people).”
On Friday, the Abe faction’s acting leaders, Shionoya and Shimomura, agreed that the faction will leave its leadership post vacant for now while maintaining its current executives. They hope to gain consent on the matter at a meeting of faction executives on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Matsuno, Hagiuda and Seko are calling for a collective leadership scheme but appear to be ready to accept Shionoya and Shimomura leading efforts to rebuild the faction for the time being.