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POLITICS

Kishida holds the key in LDP presidential race

  • August 24, 2021
  • , Mainichi , p. 5
  • JMH Translation

By Odanaka Hiroshi and Nomaguchi Minami

 

Whether former Liberal Democratic Party policy chief Kishida Fumio will challenge Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide in the party’s presidential election slated for next month is drawing attention. The defeat of Okonogi Hachiro, who ran in the Aug. 22 mayoral race in Yokohama with the full backing of Suga, is casting doubt over the premier’s ability to lead the party in its campaign for the next general election. Calls are growing inside the party to select a new leader. But as uncertainties linger over Kishida regardless of whether or not he will run in the race, he continues to vacillate. 

 

A night after the mayoral race, discontent erupted from inside the party over Suga’s all-out involvement in the Yokohama race.

 

Some junior members are going to extremes, demanding “anyone besides Prime Minister Suga run.” Amid this, a great deal of attention is being paid to Kishida, who ended in second place in last year’s presidential election. This year, some people, including former Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Takaichi Sanae, are expressing their eagerness to jockey for position, but Kishida is significantly better positioned than them because besides Suga, the leader of the Kishida faction is the only potential candidate who can secure endorsements from at least 20 people, a threshold needed to be cleared to run in the race.

 

But Kishida keeps saying that “I will decide once the schedule of the presidential race is confirmed” and postponed announcing his position until the party’s election committee decides on the date on Aug. 26. As former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Aso Taro are inclined to back Suga, he is worried about a repeat of the drubbing he suffered against Suga last year.

 

As for Kishida, two elements of support hold the key.

 

One is support from junior members. If the presidential race ended uncontested, public opposition will erupt. Concern over this possibility is strong, especially among junior members, as they do not have solid bases of support in their constituencies. If Kishida runs, these people – including not only from the Kishida faction but also from other factions – may vote for him even if they are advised not to by their faction leaders.

 

The other important element of support is local votes. When former Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro ran for the party presidency in 2001, he won local votes and successfully turned the tide inside the party. One LDP member points out that “my local supporters are becoming increasingly distrustful of the party day after day because of the government’s handling of the pandemic.” Some people hold the view that if the presidential race this time allows local rank-and-file members to vote, discontent toward Suga, which became visible in the Yokohama mayoral race, will erupt and turn into support for Kishida.

 

On the other hand, the harsh view persists that Kishida “lacks presence” due to his genial personality. While Kishida is giving in-depth thought to his candidacy, political maneuvering is already intensifying inside the party. Some people in the Kishida faction are urging Kishida to challenge Suga, saying that “If he does not run, people may call for changing the faction leader.” Meanwhile, a senior member close to Suga says that “a Kishida candidacy might hamstring the premier’s fight against COVID-19.” (Slightly Abridged)

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