By Daisuke Sawada, Mayumi Toyoda
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai is already making his presence felt. Although he had been on the job for only one week as of Aug. 10, he has been very outspoken, taking the lead in advocating the extension of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s term as LDP president and adopting a position against punishing Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who defied the party. Unlike his predecessor Sadakazu Tanigaki, who performed his duties quietly, Nikai is very active, arousing both hope and alarm among party members.
At his meeting on Aug. 10 with Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, who came to the LDP headquarters to make requests for Okinawa’s budget, Nikai said: “It is important that we do everything possible to stand with Okinawa. I would like to visit Okinawa once I get a chance.”
Onaga and the opposition force called the “All Okinawa” coalition clashed with the LDP in the recent House of Councillors election, so relations between the two sides are not all that amiable. However, Nikai told reporters after the meeting: “The base issues and peace are both the LDP’s responsibility. We will deal with them properly.” After his meeting with seasoned politician Nikai, who is even able to placate an “antagonistic force,” Onaga appeared to be relaxed when he left the LDP headquarters.
On the morning of Aug. 3, Nikai’s first day on the job as secretary general, the warhead of a ballistic missile fired by North Korea landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). LDP staff members had originally scheduled the meeting of the response headquarters for Aug. 4. Nikai was furious. The meeting was eventually advanced to the late afternoon of Aug. 3. A mid-ranking Diet member observed that “staff members who were reprimanded on his very first day in office must have been really nervous.”
Nikai, who is known to be a “prime mover” – for example, he was the first one to recommend delaying the consumption tax increase to Abe – has not changed since becoming the secretary general. He proposed the extension of the LDP president’s term on Aug. 3, and he met with Koike, who defeated the LDP’s candidate in the recent gubernatorial election, on Aug. 4, later stressing that he is against penalizing Koike.
However, there are also party members who think that it is “premature” (according to Executive Acting Secretary General Hakubun Shimomura) to discuss the president’s term of office. Two members of Abe’s faction, the Hosoda faction – Shimomura and Yasutoshi Nishimura – were appointed as special advisers to the president to work under Nikai. A veteran lawmaker suggested that “they are also supposed to watch Nikai to prevent him from going out of bounds.” There is concern that Nikai’s strong personality may make him prone to showing off his power. (Slightly abridged)