Monthly magazine Sentaku ran a report written by an anonymous author on the fierce power struggle between former Prime Minister Abe and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kihara, Prime Minister Kishida’s “right-hand man.” As a former elite Finance Ministry bureaucrat who belongs to the liberal wing of the LDP, Kihara was at odds with conservative-minded Abe in the first place. The prime minister’s top lieutenant does not approve of Abe’s “hawkish” insistence on seeking a substantial increase in the defense budget irrespective of the status of the nation’s coffers. He is also displeased that the former premier has apparently tried to undercut Kishida by openly and repeatedly complaining about Kishida’s policy management. On his part, Abe has long been deeply distrustful of the Finance Ministry as he felt it tried to sabotage his various policy initiatives in the name of maintaining fiscal discipline when he was prime minister. He disapproves of Kishida’s heavy reliance on former Finance Ministry bureaucrat-turned politicians, including Kihara and special advisor Murai Hideki.
Not hesitating to challenge the authority of the former prime minister in order to defend his own boss, Kihara collaborated with other administration officials to thwart Abe’s alleged desire for the premier to reappoint Vice Defense Minister Shimada, who served as Abe’s secretary at the Kantei for almost six years. As the feud between the two politicians has escalated, other aides to Kishida are worried that Kihara’s “confrontational” stance may upset and alienate the Abe faction and hence weaken the foundation of the Kishida administration. As Kishida plans to reshuffle his cabinet in late July, these advisors may press the prime minister not to retain Kihara in a bid to prevent a showdown with his predecessor and ensure the internal unity of the Kishida faction, whose members are reportedly jealous of Kihara’s influence on the premier. The fate of the deputy chief cabinet secretary will indicate whether Kishida is poised to allow Abe to continue to wield clout within the administration or is ready to break ranks with his predecessor.