The question of readmitting House of Representatives member Kotaro Nagasaki (elected from the second district of Yamanashi, serving his third term) to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai is pushing for, is again in the limelight. Lower House member Noriko Horiuchi (elected from the South Kanto proportional representation bloc, serving her second term), who will be competing with Nagasaki in the electoral district if he is readmitted, belongs to the Kishida faction. If Nagasaki’s party membership is restored with Nikai’s backing, this will cause Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida to lose face.
Nagasaki was elected to the Lower House for the first time in 2005 and he used to belong to the Nikai faction. When he was running for his second term in the 2009 Lower House election, he failed to obtain the LDP’s recognition as its official candidate, so he bolted the LDP to run as an independent, eventually losing the election. He later succeeded in getting elected for his second term in the Lower House election of 2012 and has remained an independent.
Nikai gives Nagasaki the status of “special member” in his faction and has been looking for an opportunity to bring him back into the party since he became secretary general in August 2016. He submitted a request for the reinstatement of Nagasaki to the LDP Ethics Committee in mid-July, which resulted in the committee holding an unusual round-robin meeting to decide on the matter. However, a decision was deferred until after the recent change of party leadership because the committee members’ opinions were divided.
Nikai’s move is seen by some to be an act of rivalry against Kishida. The Nikai faction is the fifth largest faction in the LDP with 44 members. With Nagasaki’s return, it will be only one member short of the number four Kishida faction with 46 members. On Aug. 3, the day the reshuffle of the cabinet and the LDP leadership took place, the Nikai faction held an executive meeting to confirm its intent to push for Nagasaki’s readmission to the party.
Kishida is not about to let Nikai have his way. Horiuchi’s father-in-law is former Minister of International Trade and Industry Mitsuo Horiuchi, who headed the Horiuchi faction, a faction which like the Kishida faction was affiliated with Kochikai. With Kishida being widely regarded as the frontrunner in the race to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, there is an opinion that his credentials as a faction leader are being tested. A senior faction official remarked: “If he cannot even protect his proteges, how can he be a leader?”
There are now complaints about Nikai’s behavior among those who think that he is using his position as secretary general to expand his own faction, according to a senior official of another faction. While some LDP members are hoping that Kishida’s becoming one of the top party leaders will change the political dynamics in the party, others are worried that the issue of Nagasaki’s reinstatement may result in internal discord.