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No choice for Kishida but to remain in his LDP faction even after taking office as PM

By Komoto Kota

 

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio remains the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Kishida faction (45 members) and continues to attend regular faction meetings. Although the prime minister usually leaves the faction to separate government and party affairs and to ensure fairness as party president, Kishida aims to secure his position in the LDP to stabilize his administration. There are concerns about Kishida’s base in the LDP and the absence of reliable aides amid a situation where faction management cannot be entrusted to other members.

 

At the Feb. 17 regular faction meeting, Kishida said, “I would like the Kochikai (Kishida faction) members to support me in their respective positions for a good outcome in the Upper House election this summer.” Kishida said at the meeting on Dec. 23, 2021, “I am deeply moved that the Kochikai could become the faction of the prime minister and LDP President for the first time in a long time. Let’s celebrate our faction’s continued development and do our best.”

 

The last prime minister to attend regular faction meetings was Aso Taro in 2009. Kishida’s administration and faction activities are closely related. His main policy, the “new capitalism,” is an extension of the Kishida faction tradition of emphasizing the economy. Other important government policies such as party reform and measures against COVID-19 also incorporate the opinions of young faction members. “The prime minister is deeply attached to his faction,” said a senior government official.

 

The LDP stipulated in the 1989 “Political Reform Charter” that the party’s president, vice president, secretary general, general council chair, as well as other party leaders and ministers, should “leave the faction while in office.” This is because the function of a faction is to make decisions on “money and posts.” There was also a big outcry over the harmful effects of “faction-centered party management” after revelations from the 1988 Recruit scandal.

 

This rule is not enforceable, however. Among the current LDP executive membership, both Vice President Aso Taro and Secretary General Motegi Toshimitsu serve as leaders of their respective factions. Fukuda Tatsuo, the LDP General Council chair and an Abe faction member, continues to participate in faction activities. An LDP official says, “Kishida doesn’t think [faction participation] is a problem since it is a rule in name only, and many top officials don’t follow it.”

 

Kishida attaches great importance to faction activities because he saw that former Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide, who was not affiliated with a faction and had a weak base in the LDP, was forced to abandon his bid for re-election to the LDP presidency due to party members quickly “distancing themselves from Suga” due to a decline in Cabinet approval. It has been pointed out that Kishida’s witnessing of such events had a big effect on him. In the LDP there is still speculation about the realization of the “Great Kochikai concept,” a merger of the Kishida faction and the Aso faction (49 members), which originated from the same group. The speculation has acted to restrain the Abe faction (94 members), the largest faction in the LDP.

 

Another LDP official reveals that “there is no one to whom the prime minister can safely entrust faction management.” Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, a Kishida faction member, does not hide his aspirations to be a future LDP president and prime minister. The official explains that Kishida cannot leave the faction because he is wary of Hayashi’s growing influence.

 

Since taking office, Kishida frequently meets at the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei] with Lower House members who joined his faction and also has numerous “meetings” at the Prime Minister’s Residence [Kotei] with Nemoto Takumi, the Secretary-General of the Kishida faction. “It will be a big problem if the prime minister, who is the top executive, mixes public affairs and political activities,” said a Komeito official.

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