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Kishida prioritizes LDP with sights on UH election

By Sasai Tsuneo

 

On Nov. 30, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio was discussing the Upper House election with Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Vice-President Aso Taro and Secretary-General Motegi Toshimitsu in the LDP president’s office on the 4th floor of LDP headquarters.

 

“The Upper House wants to hold the election as early as possible,” said Kishida, glancing at a document that charted multiple scenarios incorporating various opening dates of the ordinary Diet session and dates of the election. The prime minister preferred July 10 over other possible dates such as July 17 and July 24.

 

“The LDP is enjoying strong support from the younger generations. Unlike the Mori administration, which would have preferred a low voter turnout, we will benefit from a high turnout,” said Aso, eliminating July 17, which falls on a three-day weekend and could mean fewer votes from young supporters.

 

“We should move the election up, otherwise the public announcement of the election (June 23) would coincide with the Okinawa Memorial Day,” said Motegi. Kishida incorporated their opinions to decide the date of the Upper House election, a crucial event for the administration.

 

Historically, LDP presidents who become prime minister tend to stay at the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei] and away from the LDP headquarters. Kishida, however, frequently goes to his office at LDP headquarters to discuss important items for the administration. He went to the headquarters 13 times during the months of November and December last year, compared to Suga’s seven times during the same period in 2020 and Abe’s single visit in 2019.

 

While the Abe and Suga administrations prioritized the Kantei over the LDP, there were significant downsides to that. As the party’s Policy Research Council chair, Kishida himself became familiar with the frustrations felt by LDP members toward the Kantei, which didn’t incorporate the party’s views in policymaking. During the LDP presidential campaign, Kishida pledged to remedy this, and he has been seeing Motegi often and talking with him on the phone at least twice a week.

 

There are other reasons for Kishida to put priority on the party. Kishida’s faction, Kochi-kai, is the fifth largest in the party, and he needs to garner support from other factions to avoid the fate faced by former Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide, who didn’t belong to a faction and precipitously lost the premiership. “Information doesn’t flow fast enough to the Kantei; it is important to have good communication,” Kishida says to those around him.

 

Kishida is very mindful of the party. On Dec. 23, when Abe asked Kishida to declare a “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Winter Olympics, he replied: “[I will do so] soon.” The following day, it was announced that the Kishida administration won’t send government officials to the Games.

 

Excessive control by the LDP could revive past problems associated with a “dual power structure” and “lack of transparency.” But Kishida is convinced and focused on the Upper House election this summer. A victory in the election would allow him to enjoy a “golden three years,” during which no national elections would have to be held.

 

In the October Lower House election, the LDP secured an absolute, stable majority at 261 seats, and the consideration Kishida gave to the party seems to have resulted in peace in Nagatacho. Flash points remain, however. Abe, who heads the party’s largest faction, has not been treated as well as Aso and Motegi have. Even though Abe repeatedly said the diplomatic boycott should be declared early, Kishida delayed taking the step, much to the frustration of Abe.

 

According to those around Suga, Abe recently encouraged Suga to form his own faction. Abe is wary that Kishida might take steps to re-create the “Dai-Kochi-Kai” with the Tanigaki group and Aso faction. All three bodies trace back to the Dai-Kochi-Kai. If the memberships of those groups joined hands, it would result in a large faction that would exceed Abe’s own in number.

 

Suga doesn’t intend to form a faction yet. If he were to become so inclined, however, the Ganesha group, which is composed of unaffiliated legislators, could form the core of the new faction. Suga has an option of joining hands with the Nikai faction, which is led by former LDP Secretary-General Nikai Toshihiro, who is distant from the current administration, the Moriyama faction, which is spearheaded by former Diet Affairs Committee Chair Moriyama Hiroshi, or former LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru.

 

Those four politicians planned to get together on Dec. 22. Although Nikai was unable to participate due to a prior commitment to attend a funeral, the rest of them met and agreed to meet regularly.

 

If the ruling parties lose the Upper House election after having won the Lower House race, it is a huge setback for the administration. Ruling party politicians remember how that has happened in the past. “The political landscape will greatly shift depending on the results of the Upper House election,” said a legislator close to Suga.

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