Moves inside the Nukaga faction (55 members), the third largest faction in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), are attracting a great deal of attention ahead of the LDP presidential election next September. This is because while the faction is seen to support Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (LDP president) in his bid to be reelected for a third term, some faction members are also cooperating with former Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, who adopts a confrontational stance toward Abe.
The faction leader, former Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga, made the following statement on the next presidential election at a faction meeting on Dec. 21: “We must discern the political trends and make a decision in the right direction.” While he called on faction members to unite in dealing with the election, he did not mention any concrete plans.
The second largest Aso faction (59 members) and the no. 5 faction, the Nikai faction (44 members), will support Abe, so adding Abe’s own faction, the Hosoda faction, the largest in the party with 94 members, Abe is seen to be certain to win a third term for now. Several Nukaga faction members, such as Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare Katsunobu Kato, are also close to Abe.
On the other hand, certain faction members are critical of Abe holding overwhelming power and are looking at the possibility of cooperating with Ishiba, a former member of the Nukaga faction.
General Council Chairman Wataru Takeshita, a senior member of the faction, stated during a speech at Ishiba’s party in mid-November that Ishiba is “not just qualified, but even overqualified, to become prime minister.” He added: “We are closely watching when the Ishiba faction will make up its mind to fight.” Since his remarks implied expectations for Ishiba to run in the presidential election, this caused a stir in both the Nukaga and Ishiba factions.
The dual membership of House of Councillors member Satoshi Nakanishi, an Ishiba faction member who also joined the Nukuga faction in early December, has also triggered various speculation. A senior official of another faction was wondering if this was not meant to “lay the groundwork for cooperation between the two factions.”
The Nukaga faction’s predecessor, the Tanaka faction, and the Hosoda faction’s predecessor, the Fukuda faction, were once fierce rivals, so some Hosoda faction members doubt if the Nukaga faction can be united in supporting Abe’s election for a third term.
On the other hand, the Nukaga faction has been unable to field any candidate for LDP president for many years now and is at risk of falling into oblivion in the party. Therefore, there is an opinion that the faction “should not reveal whether it is supporting Abe or Ishiba until the last minute, since this will be helpful when making demands for the appointment of faction members to senior positions,” according to a veteran member. (Slightly abridged)