Divisions within LDP over local election candidates causes internal friction

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Hiroshi Hase, center, raises his fist while campaigning for the Ishikawa gubernatorial election in Kanazawa on March 4. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, second from left, joined him on the campaign trail.

A recent run of cases in which Liberal Democratic Party members have been split in their support of LDP candidates in gubernatorial elections has spurred the party leadership to mend fences among disgruntled members of local organizations ahead of a House of Councillors election slated for the summer.

In Ishikawa Prefecture’s March 13 gubernatorial contest, three first-time candidates, each supported by LDP members, competed fiercely against each other. Similarly, in a February election in Nagasaki Prefecture, two LDP candidates faced-off for the governorship.

“In the by-election, we’ll seek support from all [the party’s] prefectural assembly members,” said Naoki Okada, chairperson of the LDP Diet Affairs Committee in the upper house and head of the federation of the LDP branches in Ishikawa Prefecture.

“We’d like to support Miyamoto with all our might.” Okada added on March 20, at the opening of a campaign office for upper house member Shuji Miyamoto in Kanazawa.

Miyamoto, elected from the proportional representation segment, will run for the upper house by-election in the single-seat Ishikawa constituency. His campaign officially kicks off on April 7, with voting to be held on April 24. LDP members of the Ishikawa prefectural assembly — who had split into three camps in the gubernatorial election held a week earlier — also attended the opening.

The gubernatorial election was contested by eventual winner Hiroshi Hase, a former education minister; Yukiyoshi Yamano, a former Kanazawa mayor; and Shuji Yamada, a former upper house member of the LDP. The contest was closely fought, with voter turnout up 22.75 points from the previous election.

A wide gap still remains between the Yamada-supporting camp, which includes more than half of the LDP’s prefectural assembly members, and the Hase-supporting camp, which includes Okada.

Leaflets denigrating rival candidates proliferated during the campaign. However, Miyamoto, apparently conscious of the by-election, adopted a neutral stance.

In the Nagasaki gubernatorial election held February, a first-time candidate endorsed by a federation of LDP branches in the prefecture vied against the then-Nagasaki governor, who was looking to be re-elected for a fourth time. Among LDP Diet members elected from the prefecture, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Genjiro Kaneko, among others, supported the first-timer, while Seigo Kitamura, former minister of state for regional revitalization, among others, backed the then-incumbent governor. Local organizations friendly to the LDP were also split in their support, and the victor won with a bare margin of 541 votes.

Since the start of the year, Toshimitsu Motegi, secretary-general of the LDP, has asked the party’s local organizations in electoral districts to choose young or female candidates for the summer upper house election in an attempt to show voters that the party is undergoing renovation.

Motegi, apparently mindful of the result of the Nagasaki gubernatorial election, said, “It’s crucial that we choose a candidate [for the upper house election] who can serve as a symbol to unify conservative forces.” This thinking appears to reflect his desire to respect the intentions of the party’s local organizations.

The districts in which there was split LDP support for candidates in gubernatorial elections are, in the main, party strongholds. “Conflict tends to surface within our party whenever opposition parties are weak in national politics,” said a veteran LDP member of the House of Representatives.

The LDP has seen cases of split support for candidates before, such as in the gubernatorial elections in Toyama and Kagoshima prefectures in 2020, and in Gifu and Hyogo prefectures in 2021.

Prior to the lower house election last autumn, senior party officials attempted to repair internal rifts and restore unity by communicating closely with local organizations in these prefectures. It seems likely the

party leadership’s capabilities will be put to the test this time around, too.