By political reporter Chie Morifuji
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida has decided not to run in the party’s presidential election in September and to leave himself the option of succeeding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by continuing to support him. It can be said that this is due to the fact that he has been driven into “losing by default” because he failed to broaden his support beyond the Kishida faction.
Kishida called up Abe to inform him of his decision not to run in the election and convey his support shortly before he held a news conference in the late afternoon of July 24.
Abe thanked him and they confirmed their unity.
In a subsequent news conference, Kishida stressed that he was in agreement with Abe on the management of the administration from now on. He cited the need to deal with the torrential rain disaster in western Japan and the North Korea issues as his reason for backing out.
However, it is widely believed in the LDP that Kishida has made the decision not to run without a clear outlook on what will happen after Abe steps down.
Senior Kishida faction officials gathered in a room on the top floor of a high-rise hotel in Akasaka, Tokyo, at noon on July 11.
Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Yoshimasa Hayashi, chairperson of the faction, and others advocated Kishida’s candidacy, arguing that “it would be better for him to run to make his presence felt.” On the other hand, chief deputy chairman former Reconstruction Minister Takumi Nemoto maintained a cautious stance, stating “this is not an election in which the presidency can be won.”
Kishida listened intently to the discussions with his lips pursed. No conclusion was reached at the hour-long meeting.
The faction was sharply divided between those for and against Kishida running in the election and the situation was such that “the top priority was to make sure the faction does not disintegrate whether Kishida runs or not,” according to an aide to Kishida, who had also lamented to his aides that it was such a tough decision and that he was “damned either way.”
Kishida heads the number four faction in the LDP so he has an advantage over former Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba in terms of votes from Diet members. However, he has failed to gain wider support from rank-and-file party members. Despite his campaign trips to rural areas, he was unable to overtake Ishiba as the choice for LDP president in the opinion polls conducted by the media outlets.
Kishida had muttered that he did not want to “join a fight in which he would be badly defeated by Ishiba.” If he ran in the presidential race and lost to Ishiba, he would no longer be viable as a candidate to become LDP president.
Abe has dined alone with Kishida three times since the start of this year to gauge his intent regarding running in the presidential race. Kishida was unable to give him an answer.
After their dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Akasaka on June 18, Abe told his aides: “I was not able to find out whether Mr. Kishida is running in the presidential election or not.”
Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who supports Abe, once grumbled: “What does Kishida really want to do?” A mid-ranking Kishida faction member lamented, “If he wanted to sell himself at a high price, he should have declared his support for Abe earlier. He is now a bargain sale item”
The strategy envisioned by Kishida faction members who are against his candidacy is for him to win the position of successor by offering his support to Abe now and win in the next presidential election with the support of the Hosoda, Aso, and Nikai factions. With Kishida withdrawing from the race, certain faction members are hopeful that the faction may “receive some special treatment” in the cabinet reshuffle, according to a veteran member. However, there is no guarantee that things will turn out as they hope. (Slightly abridged)