By Imanaka Nobuhiro
The decision made by Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide (president of the Liberal Democratic Party) to reshuffle the party leadership and other positions just before the LDP presidential election (campaign from Sept. 17, voting on Sept. 29) has created a stir within the party. If the prime minister loses the party presidency, those appointed to senior posts could end up leaving their positions after a very short time. Even if Suga were to win the party election, their tenure could be short, if the LDP has a bad showing in the Lower House election scheduled to take place soon after the party election. Some in the party are expressing doubts about the wisdom of Suga’s decision.
Suga is preparing to pick successors to Secretary-General Nikai Toshihiro and others as soon as a mandate from the party is secured at the LDP Board’s extraordinary meeting on Sept. 3. Already rumors are flying, with some saying “former Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru will be Nikai’s successor,” and “the new Chief Cabinet Secretary will be vaccine czar Kono Taro or Education Minister Hagiuda Koichi.”
“I won’t accept a senior position because I have announced my candidacy in the presidential election,” said former LDP Policy Research Council Chair Kishida Fumio during a BS Nippon Television program broadcasted on Aug. 31, indicating that he would decline if Suga offered him the post of secretary general.
Suga apparently hopes to hold the Lower House election under a new team because his Cabinet’s approval ratings have been consistently low due to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. By removing Nikai, Suga hopes to beat Kishida to the punch. In light of criticism, from both inside and outside the party, over the secretary general’s holding the position for more than five years, Kishida has said that he would limit the terms of leadership positions if elected party president.
The party members are bewildered by Suga’s 11th hour personnel reshuffling. “I would say nobody wants to accept [a position] at this time,” a party heavyweight points out. “If Suga loses in the presidential election, those newly assigned leaders would lose their posts after only about a month. Seeing the possibility of the LDP losing power to the opposition parties, he said, “The new LDP leadership may end up spearheading an opposition party.”
Similarly, a veteran LDP member commented after lamenting the seemingly unstoppable decline in the Cabinet approval rating: “Unless they want to bind their political future to Suga’s fate in the Lower House election and the presidential election, no one will accept a leadership position at this time.” (Abridged)