It is not only an election to select the head of a political party, but also a de facto election to select a prime minister. Policy debate should not be neglected.
The method for selecting a new president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was decided. The party will hold a general meeting of lawmakers from both chambers of the Diet to replace the party convention, conducting an election with 535 voters — 394 LDP Diet members and three representatives from each of the 47 LDP prefectural chapters. The start of the election campaign is expected to be officially announced Tuesday while the voting and ballot counting will likely be conducted on Sept. 14.
The novel coronavirus infection situation and the economic climate are unpredictable. In order to minimize the political vacuum, it is only natural for the party to expedite the selection of a successor.
Within the party, younger lawmakers, among others, have called for a nationwide vote by all party members. However, examining the list of party members and conducting the vote by mail and other means is said to take two months. The party leadership should thoroughly explain why it decided to adopt a general meeting of LDP lawmakers from both houses of the Diet as a way to select a new party president.
Even under this system, local votes account for a quarter of the total. The LDP leadership intends to urge the prefectural chapters to hold their own party member votes. In order to provide the prefectural chapters with important materials for making decisions, it is necessary to hold debates among candidates as much as possible to clarify differences in their opinions.
The outline of the election is becoming clearer, centering on three party heavyweights: Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida and former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba.
Five factions, including the largest one led by Hiroyuki Hosoda, are expected to support Suga, who does not belong to a faction. As both Kishida and Ishiba cannot get wider support than their own factions, Suga has the upper hand in terms of Diet members’ votes.
Kishida announced his candidacy, saying, “I want to be a leader who can draw the cooperation of the people.” Ishiba stated at a press conference, “I want the Liberal Democratic Party to be a party that can win the understanding and sympathy [of the people].” Suga is expected to announce his candidacy soon.
Since the inauguration of the second Abe Cabinet in late 2012, Suga has served as chief cabinet secretary and played a central role in policymaking led by the Prime Minister’s Office. Kishida has been foreign minister and chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, while Ishiba was the LDP secretary general and minister for regional revitalization during the first half of Abe’s administration.
Among the three, Suga is apparently considered to be the right person to maintain policy continuity and aim for a balance between measures against the coronavirus and economic activities.
It is regrettable that, in contrast to active maneuvering of factions, there has not been a surge in policy debate for the party presidential election.
Behind the decision by each faction to support Suga seems to be the intention to secure the status of a mainstream faction. If the new LDP president is decided solely by alliances of intra-party factions, it will be difficult for the new administration to win high support from the public.
What will a new prime minister inherit from the Abe’s administration and what will he modify? What is the new prime minister’s goal? It is hoped that each of the three will clearly present their basic principles and concrete plans for his administration, seeking a public mandate on them.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 2, 2020.