Nikai faction backs Suga ahead of LDP presidential race

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Toshihiro Nikai, Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party, responds to questions at the party’s headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo on Tuesday.

Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai on Tuesday declared his faction’s support for the reelection as LDP president of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose term as party leader ends in September.

The Nikai faction is the first among the major factions within the ruling party to back Suga.

Senior officials of the four other major LDP factions that supported Suga in the presidential race last autumn are expected to back him for party president again. However, the factions have not officially declared their support yet, as younger faction members have expressed dissatisfaction with the prime minister.

Wait-and-see approach

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Toshihiro Nikai, Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party, responds to questions at the party’s headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo on Tuesday.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Nikai was asked if his faction would support Suga’s reelection as party leader. “Of course. That’s a silly question,” Nikai replied.

His 47-member faction has declared its support for Suga earlier than any other faction, as it did in the previous race.

Over the next few days, Nikai and Suga are expected to discuss political schedules, including details regarding the presidential race.

On Monday, the Nikai faction held an executive meeting at the party headquarters and decided on a policy of unity in the presidential election.

At the meeting, they also confirmed that they would listen to the voices of younger party members who have misgivings about tackling a House of Representatives election under Suga’s leadership.

However, it is thought that Nikai wanted to lead the pack by declaring his support early for the prime minister, in the hope that others would follow.

In the previous presidential race, four major factions rushed to declare their support for Suga following the backing by the Nikai faction: the Hosoda faction led by Hiroyuki Hosoda, the largest faction with 96 members; the Aso faction led by Taro Aso, with 53 members; the Takeshita faction led by Wataru Takeshita, with 52 members; and the Ishihara faction led by Nobuteru Ishihara, with 10 members.

This time, however, the four factions appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach for the time being, amid fears that a hasty declaration could lead to a rebellion in the ranks.

Discontent has been smoldering in the Hosoda faction over former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hosoda’s suggestion that it would back Suga.

“There has been no prior consultation,” a faction member said. “I would leave the faction if it decides to back Suga in the presidential race.”

Deputy Prime Minister Aso’s support for the reelection of Suga has not wavered.

The Takeshita faction’s Mikio Aoki, a former chairman of the General Assembly of Party Members of the House of Councillors who retains some influence over the party’s upper house members, instructed the faction’s senior officials to unite its members in support of Suga.

Hiroshi Moriyama, the secretary general of the Ishihara faction and chairman of the party’s Diet Affairs Committee, said Tuesday, “Taking into account his achievements, I support [the reelection of Suga].”

However, the four factions have not yet officially declared their support for the prime minister.

Kishida might run

Fumio Kishida, former chairman of the party’s Policy Research Council, indicated he might run in the party leadership race in a TV program broadcast Tuesday.

“I strongly hope to demonstrate the breadth and diversity of the LDP through the presidential election,” he said.

There have been calls for Kishida to run in the party presidential race among the 46 members of the faction he leads. He is expected to finalize his decision as early as Thursday when the schedule for the party’s presidential race will be fixed.

“Given the distrust that has emerged due to political and money-related scandals, the presidential election will be a valuable opportunity for the LDP to regain public trust and demonstrate that it is a party that listens to the voices of the people and has a wide range of options to offer,” Kishida said.