One year after the tragic assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) faction that he once led finds itself grappling with internal divisions and an uncertain future. The absence of a clear successor has compelled the faction to adopt a group leadership structure, but experts warn that the lack of a unifying figure like Abe could exacerbate existing cracks within the faction, potentially leading to disgruntled members breaking away.
The newly formed governing committee, composed of five prominent faction members, aims to steer the faction amidst these challenges. The committee includes influential figures such as Yasutoshi Nishimura, the industry minister, Koichi Hagiuda, the LDP policy chief, Tsuyoshi Takagi, the parliamentary affairs chief, Hirokazu Matsuno, the chief cabinet secretary, and Hiroshige Seko, the LDP Upper House secretary general.
In a recent news conference, Hiroshige Seko emphasized that ongoing discussions are taking place among the five members, with particular attention given to the concerns of younger faction members. Additionally, a meeting involving all faction members will convene on Thursday, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of Abe’s tragic assassination.
The formation of the five-man committee is a result of the faction’s failure to identify a clear successor after Abe’s untimely demise. With Abe leaving the faction in a state of limbo, senior members had to establish an ad-hoc steering committee to navigate the uncertain path ahead.
Tetsuo Suzuki, a veteran political journalist, revealed that former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who once led the faction, had given his approval to the five committee members. However, Hakubun Shimomura, the former education minister, and Ryu Shionoya, the acting chairman of the Abe faction, have also assumed leadership roles within the faction since Abe’s passing.
While the new committee endeavors to maintain a united front, it remains unclear how they will navigate their relationship with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his 46-member faction. In the 2021 LDP presidential election, most members of the Abe faction supported Kishida over Taro Kono, the digital minister. However, Meiji Kakizaki, a political science professor at Teikyo University, suggests that the influence of the Abe faction has been waning, as it now faces an antagonistic relationship with the Kishida faction.
A Potential Rift or Alliance?
According to Suzuki, two possible scenarios lie ahead for the Abe faction. They could either maintain a strong hold on the Kishida faction, strategically utilizing their alliance, or form an “anti-Kishida” movement within the LDP by aligning themselves with former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s group. The latter option could pose a significant challenge to Kishida’s leadership.
Despite the speculation surrounding the Abe faction’s future, a complete disintegration or severe splintering is currently unlikely. Suzuki believes that while a few disgruntled members might break away from the faction, the majority will choose to remain due to the perceived benefits of working within the larger entity. However, Kakizaki points out that the faction has been informally divided since the 2021 LDP presidential election when Abe’s support for a nonfaction member instead of a fellow faction member disappointed many within the group.
“Although the Abe faction maintains a facade of unity, their failure to rally behind a single candidate during the LDP presidential election reveals an underlying split,” Kakizaki asserted.
As the LDP’s largest faction, the Abe faction’s internal dynamics continue to be closely watched. The faction’s ability to navigate these challenging times and address the concerns of its members will be pivotal in determining its future trajectory within the political landscape of Japan.
The cracks within the LDP faction, once steered by the influential Shinzo Abe, are expected to deepen under the new group leadership structure. The absence of a unifying figure and the emergence of internal divisions pose significant challenges for the faction’s cohesion and influence. While the potential for disgruntled members breaking away exists, the faction’s sheer size may still encourage many to remain and work within its framework. The unfolding dynamics within the Abe faction will undoubtedly shape the future of Japanese politics in the coming months and years.