As of Aug. 3, Nikai Toshihiro has been Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party for five years. Although he has been successful in managing the party and supporting the administration, some complain that Nikai has prioritized the interests of his own faction above those of others. This has LDP members to take greater interest in the next reshuffling of the party leadership.
On Aug. 2, Nikai received greetings from the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly’s new LDP Secretary-General, Komiya Anri and others at LDP headquarters. After the meeting, he was briefed on policy by officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Nikai, 82, has kept a busy schedule. During the last Tokyo Assembly election, he campaigned for LDP candidates and planned a tour of Atami City, which had recently been devastated by a landslide.
Nikai replaced his predecessor, Tanigaki Sadakazu, in August 2016, when Tanigaki was severely injured in a cycling accident. LDP secretaries-general are usually replaced within a year or two. Nikai, however, has occupied the position ever since. In September 2020, Nikai’s tenure surpassed the previous record held by Tanaka Kakuei, former prime minister and Nikai’s mentor.
The stability of Nikai’s position comes from the wide range of connections he enjoys with members of ruling and opposition parties. In addition to this, he has a knack for making insightful judgments about political developments. During the administration of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, Nikai suggested discussing the extension of the term of the party presidency, opening the way for Abe to have a third term. When Abe announced his resignation, Nikai swiftly declared his support for then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide, sparking momentum toward the launch of the Suga administration.
When a no-confidence motion was submitted during the recent ordinary Diet session, Nikai kept the opposition parties at bay by repeatedly saying that the prime minister would immediately dissolve the Lower House. Komeito leader Yamaguchi Natsuo appreciates Nikai’s prowess. “Nikai is an experienced politician, and he wields real power in the party. Politics cannot be discussed without thinking about Nikai’s influence,” Yamaguchi said.
Meanwhile, some in the LDP are critical of Nikai’s long tenure as secretary-general. “[Under Nikai] too many judgments and decisions have been made that favor the Nikai faction,” says a former cabinet member who belongs to another LDP faction, referring to the allocation of senior party positions and the coordination of candidates in various electoral districts. This sentiment is shared by more than a few LDP members.
Nikai revealed early on—in March—that he will support Prime Minister Suga’s re-election as party president. Suga hopes to score a victory in the Lower House election and then win the party presidency uncontested. Those close to Nikai hope that, in this scenario, Nikai will continue as secretary-general, as “there will be no reason to replace a secretary-general who has supported the prime minister and won a Lower House election.” More and more LDP members, however, are gradually becoming concerned that Nikai’s staying longer in the office would give the impression to voters that the LDP is an old-fashioned party that doesn’t welcome progress.