Dissolution of LDP Factions: Will Move Actually Help Improve Culture of The Ruling Party?

If some members of the Liberal Democratic Party think that the party can regain public trust by dissolving party factions, such thinking is overly optimistic.

The ruling party should thoroughly explain the recent scandal over revenue from political fundraising parties and take measures to make such funds transparent.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced his intention to dissolve the Kochikai, also called the Kishida faction, which he formerly headed. As if in response to his move, the Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai — the party’s largest faction, also known as the Abe faction and once led by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and the Shisuikai — known as the Nikai faction and led by former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai — also decided to disband themselves at their emergency general meetings.

Prosecutors have filed criminal charges against people from the three factions, such as those in charge of accounting, in connection with the scandal. Arrests have only come for the Abe faction, which was found to have created a large amount of hidden funds. However, the Nikai and Kishida factions have also seen their individuals charged with making false records in funds reports.

Party factions have been criticized for leading the way for making personnel appointments with priority on the number of times their members have been elected rather than their ability. The practice of providing funds to faction members, in such forms as year-end “mochi rice cake money” and summertime “ice money,” has also been called into question.

Kishida’s abrupt announcement of the dissolution plan apparently has been intended as a way to take action ahead of other factions, leading the move to disband them. It is crucial to improve the old-fashioned party management.

However, the factions have served as a forum for their members to learn about policies and share information about developments in Diet affairs. What will make up for the loss of such functions after the dissolution of the factions?

Kishida served as the chair of his faction for more than 10 years, but stated that he was not aware of the details, as the irregularities were clerical errors. This is hardly satisfactory. Failure to give explanations in a careful manner will only increase public distrust in politics.

Within the LDP, the idea of disbanding factions has emerged every time the party has fallen into a crisis.

Based on the lessons from the Recruit bribery scandal, the LDP formulated a political reform outline in 1989, calling for the elimination of party factions as the ultimate goal. After the Cabinet of Yoshiro Mori was met with a surge of criticism, Junichiro Koizumi, who succeeded Mori as prime minister, called for an exit from the faction-oriented politics and regained public support.

The dissolution of a party faction, which is a political organization, requires notification to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. Party factions with a long history are likely to have accumulated a certain amount of funds.

It is possible that the funds will be donated to political organizations of faction executives and others in anticipation of a future revival of the factions. But are there any funds that should be returned to their supporters?

The Shikokai — known as the Aso faction and led by LDP Vice President Taro Aso — and the Heisei Kenkyukai — known as the Motegi faction headed by LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi — have not seen any of their people charged in the current scandal. There has been a view within the Aso faction that factions that did not face criminal charges do not need to disband, but there is a possibility that public pressure may also increase for these two factions to be dissolved as well.

The Aso and Motegi factions are the backbone that supports the Kishida administration. If these factions become distanced from the prime minister over the issue of faction dissolution, the political situation is likely to fluctuate.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 20, 2024)