Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) largest faction are ramping up their efforts to choose a new leader, a position that has remained vacant since the tragic assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe one year ago. The faction, still referred to as the Abe faction, has been grappling with the prolonged absence of a leader, fearing a decline in influence within the party. With the first anniversary of Abe’s passing approaching on July 8, discussions have intensified, yet the outcome remains uncertain.
Industry minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, previously the head of the faction’s secretariat, emphasized the need to reach a decision regarding Abe’s successor during a radio program on Wednesday. Nishimura stated, “We’ve reached a stage where we must decide.” Meanwhile, Hiroshige Seko, the leader of the faction members in the House of Councillors, suggested that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida might consider a Cabinet reshuffle and a revamp of the party’s leadership team in the upcoming summer months.
To facilitate negotiations with Prime Minister Kishida, Seko expressed the importance of having a main point of contact and conveyed the faction’s desire to reach a decision in the near future. Although proposals for a collective leadership or appointing acting chief Ryu Shionoya as the new leader were initially discussed, opposition within the faction led to the abandonment of both ideas.
The Abe faction experienced a setback when one of its members lost to Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, a member of the Kishida faction, in the race to become the LDP’s official candidate in a new constituency for the House of Representatives. This defeat caused discontent within the Abe faction, as they believed their declining influence was the underlying reason for the party’s decision.
The responsibility of selecting the next faction leader rests with five prominent members of the Abe faction: Nishimura, Seko, LDP policy chief Koichi Hagiuda, the party’s parliamentary affairs chief Tsuyoshi Takagi, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno. They have convened multiple times, most recently on Monday, to engage in extensive discussions about who should assume leadership.
Opinions within the faction are divided. Some members advocate for Hagiuda, Nishimura, Takagi, or Matsuno to become the leader, while others propose appointing any of the four alongside Seko as co-leaders. There is also a faction that supports Hagiuda as the leader and Nishimura as a candidate for the LDP presidency.
During a speech on Wednesday, Nishimura expressed his willingness to run for party leadership and did not dismiss the idea of separating the roles of faction chief and LDP presidential candidate, stating, “Anything is possible.”
Despite the ongoing discussions, veteran faction members who are not part of the core group of five have expressed criticism, claiming that the decision-making authority lies beyond their reach.
On Wednesday, Ryu Shionoya, the acting chief, held a meeting with young faction members to address their concerns and gather their input. A faction-wide gathering is scheduled for Thursday to further deliberate on the selection of new leadership.
As the faction’s membership recently crossed the 100 mark, which is seen as a threshold for a potential faction split, tensions are running high. Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who once led the faction and continues to hold influence within the group, cautioned against the formation of smaller groups within the faction, stating that it would go against Abe’s wishes.
Implications of a New Leader for the Abe Faction
The leadership vacuum within the Abe faction has triggered a sense of urgency among its members, as they recognize the significance of having a decisive leader to maintain the faction’s influence. With discussions underway and the approaching anniversary of Abe’s passing, the faction must navigate a challenging path to select a new leader who can steer the group forward in alignment with its goals. The outcome of their deliberations will undoubtedly shape the future trajectory of the faction and impact its standing within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.