After the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election, former Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba told reporters at the party headquarters: “I will continue my efforts to make sure that I would be ready to meet the people’s expectations when it becomes necessary for me (to become LDP president).” He already indicated his intent to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He smiled broadly at the “job-well-done” party for his campaign headquarters held at a hotel in Tokyo. Campaign headquarters chief Hidehisa Otsuji stated enthusiastically: “The battle will continue.” A participant in the party said: “It felt like a victory party.”
The campaign team had set a total of 200 party member and Diet member votes as an “acceptable performance,” but Ishiba ended up winning 254 votes, more than 50 votes above expectations. He won 45% of party member votes, coming close behind Abe. And even in Diet member votes, while the team was counting on around 50 votes coming from the Ishiba faction (20 members) and 21 Upper House members of the Takeshita faction, Ishiba won 73 votes, exasperating the Abe camp.
It is believed that Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Ken Saito’s revelation that he was pressured by the Abe camp to resign had served to win over votes from critics of Abe’s political predominance. Ishiba declared proudly to reporters that, “We were able to show that the LDP is not just one single color.”
While the Ishiba faction is all excited that Ishiba has become the “frontrunner in the race to succeed Abe,” the election also betrayed the weakness of his political support base in the LDP. The faction’s membership has not expanded since it was launched in September 2015. In terms of policy, it has simply called for focusing on the rural areas but has not come up with concrete policies, failing to become a real challenge to Abe.
There is a cynic view in the LDP that Ishiba performed unexpectedly well “not because of support for Ishiba, but simply because he won the votes of non-supporters of Abe who are fed up with this prolonged administration,” according to a former cabinet minister.
LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, who indicated on Sept. 20 that he would like to run in the next election, and Foreign Minister Taro Kono are among those who have emerged as possible successors to Abe. Ishiba has many more hurdles to overcome before he can become the next LDP president.