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Tanigaki worries LDP is too dominated by Abe’s thinking, but his ambition for party leadership withers

(Asahi: February 22, 2015 – p. 4)

 

 By Katsuhisa Kuramae

 

 Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki speaks in a suave tone and smiles all the time. He has been groomed as the prince of Kochikai, an influential LDP faction which played a key role in transforming Japan into a lightly-armed, economic power and setting the course for the postwar era.

 

 Tanigaki has been long portrayed as a leading dove in the LDP, but his influence is on the decline of late. Even though he is well positioned to warn of the party’s inclination toward hawkishness and act as a counterweight to the hawkish leader Abe, he seems more intent on supporting him.

 

 Abe plans to issue a statement this year to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The Komeito party, the LDP’s coalition partner, has been urging the LDP to arrange a meeting in advance due to fears that the statement could be strongly imbued with Abe’s thinking. But Tanigaki, who shares many of the same views as Komeito, remains nonchalant. “We will take a good look at discussions by a panel of experts that the Prime Minister has selected,” he said at a press conference.

 

 Tanigaki knows that as a man of pride, Abe does not want others to tell him what to do. Tanigaki pays a great deal of consideration to the leader, but in his heart, he questions the validity of issuing a statement on the occasion of the 70th anniversary. He thinks that the statement on the 50th anniversary was needed since it was a milestone year and that the 60th anniversary statement was issued as an extension. But as far as the 70th anniversary is concerned, he must be calling into question the necessity of issuing a cabinet-endorsed statement.

 

 Nonetheless, Tanigaki remains mum publicly. As the prime minister has said he will issue a statement, he thinks he must support him.

 

 Right after Tanigaki was appointed as secretary general in September, he referred to the “oval theory,” a principle used by former Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira, who was the leader of Kochikai. “A circle has only one center, which is not good,” he said. “[An oval] has two centers, which help it keep balance. As secretary general, I feel I am expected to take on a role of the other oval center.” The remark gave the impression that he was willing to change the party atmosphere that subdues anti-Abe voices.

 

 Tanigaki no longer talks about the oval theory. Newspaper outlets reported that he was looking to challenge Abe in the party’s next presidential election. That was not his real intention and he has since remained quiet.

 

 The LDP used to be more open to diverse opinions, embracing pro-constitution members, revisionists, people in favor of prioritizing economic growth, and pork-barrel seekers. Objecting to leadership decisions was a common occurrence. There were times when differences in opinion escalated into internal power struggles, but these also helped the party absorb a wide range of opinions from the public. The party carried out pseudo changes of government internally by selecting members with different ways of thinking to serve as prime minister.

 

 That atmosphere had been alive until nine years ago. Tanigaki ran for the LDP presidency in September 2006 – a race to pick a successor to Koizumi. The odds were high for Abe. Tanigaki was having trouble collecting enough signatures from party members to qualify for candidacy. A member of the Mori faction, which Abe belonged to, said: “The race without Tanigaki would be a disaster, as Abe and Taro Aso are similar in their thinking. [The public] might think the LDP doesn’t have many attractive politicians.”

 

 Debate between Tanigaki and Abe intensified during the presidential race. When Abe stressed the need to change the constitutional interpretation to allow the country to exercise the right to collective self-defense, Tanigaki argued that the Constitution should be revised. They were also at odds over the consumption tax. Tanigaki called for raising the tax rate, whereas Abe responded by saying, “Is it honest to talk about increasing the consumption tax?”

 

 Abe garnered 464 votes, surpassing the two contenders. Tanigaki won 102 votes, which was beyond his initial target of 70. He noted that those who voted for him signaled a warning that the LDP’s future will be at risk if Abe becomes a single source of influence.

 

 This year, the LDP celebrates the 60th anniversary of its foundation. A major turning point in its history was the setback of the 2009 election, which slid the party into the opposition camp. To clearly distinguish itself from Democratic Party of Japan, which took over the reins of power, it became inclined toward the right. It was ironic that Tanigaki was elected to lead the party at this juncture.

 

 Tanigaki criticized the DPJ’s programs, such as childcare allowances and free high school tuition, as being “empty liberal” and advocated for collective self-defense. The person who was once regarded as the most liberal in the LDP was taking the initiative in pushing the party toward the right. That momentum is now being accelerated by the Abe government.

 

 It seems that Tanigaki had little choice but to lean toward the right when he was leading the LDP as an opposition party. From time to time, the Kochikai-bred dove recently displays his concerns about the party. “The LDP is focusing too heavily on ideology. It should become more generous and embrace different opinions,” he says.

 

 Tanigaki, as a mainstream conservative, feels at odds with Abe, who keeps reiterating the word “reform.” But he holds his tongue because he is committed to supporting the prime minister. For Abe, having Tanigaki as secretary general helps the party play up its diversity. Tanigaki’s efforts to align himself with Abe seem to suggest Abe’s growing influence in the party.

 

 Tanigaki will turn to 70 on March 7. His father and former Education Minister Senichi Tanigaki died at 71. Thoughts on how to wrap up his life have been recently passing through his mind. He is still seen as a hopeful successor to Abe, but his primary concern today is how to foster the next generation. The ambition that he showed nine years ago in challenging Abe is ebbing away.

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