By Oki Nagai, Nikkei deputy editor
In the upcoming race for the Liberal Democratic Party presidency to pick Prime Minister Abe’s successor, five factions in the party have made an unusual move to express their support for Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who does not belong to any of them. If Suga is elected, he will become the first prime minister who was elected to the Lower House since the single-seat electoral constituency was introduced in 1996. Lawmakers who were elected after 1996 have a different view toward party factions from those elected under the multiple-seat constituency system.
On Aug. 31, about ten LDP legislators lobbied Suga to run for LDP presidency. Among them was ex-Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Takamori Yoshikawa, who belongs to the Nikai faction, and some members from the Kishida faction. These people were lawmakers who won Diet seats along with Suga in 1996.
There is a gap in perceptions toward factions between those elected to office before and after 1996. This division became evident from the fact that Suga was requested to run for LDP presidency by the group of lawmakers elected to office in 1996. Prime Minister Abe was elected to the office in 1993. If Suga is elected to LDP president, the government will move into an era of people who know little about the golden days of the factions.
Factions can probably reward members only through post allocations, as they can wield little influence in seeking party endorsement and have little money to take care of their members. Prime Minister Abe took advantage of this as he amassed a strong influence over personnel appointments under his unrivaled rule. He rewarded factions that were supportive of him with attractive posts but gave the cold shoulder to those that were not cooperative.
Koji Nakakita, a professor at Hitotsubashi University, pointed out that “factions feared they would lose influence once they were marginalized.” Since factions grew weak compared with when they were under the multiple-seat constituency system, they had no choice but to become the mainstream. This created a situation where all factions aimed to become the mainstream during the Abe administration. As a result, they expressed support for Suga one after another.
Minister for Reconstruction Kazunori Tanaka, who was elected to office in 1996 and is a graduate of Hosei University, the same alma mater as Suga, says: “The 1996 election was not a race in which people could win by solely depending on factions. So those who won that race believe that they must win on their own.”
Suga left the Koga faction (now the Kishida faction) in 2009 to support Taro Kono in the presidential race held that year. He has since remained independent. “Suga rose to become an influential candidate on his own,” said Makoto Iokibe, chancellor of the University of Hyogo.
The single-seat constituency system was introduced nearly a quarter century ago. LDP members who won Lower House seats under the multiple-seat constituency system account for 15% of the total membership. This percentage will shrink in the future. The way factions look for the right candidate resembles a race in the single-seat constituency, under which only one candidate can win. (Abridged)