By political reporters Chie Morifuji, Akihisa Ota
Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe succeeded in winning a third consecutive term as Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president, his rival, former Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, put up a good fight, especially in terms of votes from rank-and-file party members. Whether Abe will be able to maintain support in the next three years will depend on whether he is able to build unity in the party, paying attention to criticism of his single-handed political dominance.
Abe took great pains to emphasize his modesty at the general meeting of LDP members of both houses of the Diet held at the auditorium on the eighth floor of the LDP headquarters right after his reelection for a third term.
He was all smiles as he shook hands with Ishiba on the stage and then raised their hands together. This was a gesture to signal that “there are no sides now.”
Abe won more party member votes in 37 prefectures, obtaining 55% of the total rank-and-file votes. In 12 prefectures, including his home constituency Yamaguchi and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso’s constituency Fukuoka, he led Ishiba by over 20 percentage points.
When Abe received his campaign office’s report of his victory, he remarked , “We barely made 55%, the ratio of votes won by Mr. Ishiba last time (the 2012 presidential election) when he was said to won an impressive victory [in terms of rank-and-file votes].”
However, his campaign team was not all that excited because they failed to win in a way that will “shut Ishiba up.”
Akira Amari, secretary general of Abe’s campaign headquarters, told reporters nonchalantly: “A sense of balance always comes into play. That’s how the LDP works.” Former Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura, who is close to Abe, commented curtly on Ishiba’s good showing in party member votes: “It was impressive. Good job.” Aso argued that “winning is all that counts in elections” but there has been little show of jubilance.
Abe lost to Ishiba in party member votes in all four prefectures where joint electoral districts were introduced for House of Councillors elections, including Tottori and Tokushima. He also lost in many predominantly rural Tohoku and North Kanto prefectures, and even in prefectures where he won, he did so by only a small margin.
While Abe won over 80% of Diet member votes, the 73 votes won by Ishiba were above expectations. Over 300 Diet members, including their secretaries acting as proxies, attended a meeting held by Abe’s campaign headquarters in a hotel in Tokyo at noon, shortly before voting started on Sept. 20. However, an informed source was wondering why “the number of Diet member votes was four short of the number of plates of curry served for lunch.”
There is a possibility that some members of the factions supporting Abe defected to vote for Ishiba. An officer of Abe’s Hosoda faction complained, “This is a rebellion. We will look into it.”
Diet members’ voting results:
Abe: 329 votes
Ishiba: 73 votes
Invalid votes: 3
Position of factions in presidential election:
Hosoda faction (94 members): Abe
Aso faction (59 members): Abe
Kishida faction (48 members): Abe
Nikai faction (44 members): Abe
Takeshita faction (55 members): allowed to vote for either candidate – most of 34 Lower House members voted for Abe and most of 21 Upper House voted for Ishiba
Unaffiliated Diet members (73)
Ishiba faction (20 members): Ishiba
Abe will now be making appointments for the cabinet and party leadership with the aim of consolidating LDP unity, but coordination is expected to be tricky. There are a large number of cabinet minister hopefuls, particularly from the five factions that supported him. It will not be possible to please all the factions when he hands out the jobs. If he is also forced to give consideration to the Ishiba faction in light of Ishiba’s good showing, this will increase discontent among the factions that supported him.
The Okinawan gubernatorial election will also be a major challenge for Abe. If the ruling parties’ candidate loses, this may affect Abe’s credibility as the party’s “face” in the simultaneous local elections and Upper House election next year.
Another cause of concern is the discrepancy between the Diet members’ and the party members’ votes. A junior Upper House member who is up for reelection next year voiced his concern: “This election proved the Prime Minister’s unpopularity rather than Mr. Ishiba’s popularity in the rural areas. His so-called political dominance is weaker than I thought.” (Slightly abridged)