3 former Japanese PMs look to secure key party positions following summer election

Yomiuri Shimbun file photos
From left: Yoshihide Suga, Taro Aso and Shinzo Abe; all three of which are former prime ministers

Three former prime ministers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have been surprisingly active of late. Observers posit that their recent activities are a bid to garner clout within the party following the House of Councillors election in summer.

Among the trio, Shinzo Abe, who leads the party’s biggest faction, has submitted multiple policy requests to the government. Party vice president Taro Aso, meanwhile, has concentrated on ensuring stability within the LDP by dining together with leading party figures. For his part, Yoshihide Suga has been zipping across the country to support people expected to declare their candidacy in the upper house election.

Judging by this flurry of activity, it seems the former PMs are keen to enhance their presence within the party, and have an eye on a possible Cabinet reshuffle and changes in the party leadership following the election.

Shoji Nishida, who chairs the party’s headquarters on fiscal policy, met May 30 with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at LDP headquarters, where he presented Kishida with a proposal calling for aggressive stimulus measures. The headquarters is a strong foothold for Abe, who serves as its top advisor.

During a talk in Toyama on May 29, Abe said, “There’s ample room [for the government] to take stimulus measures to support people’s livelihoods, and the general economy.” Abe has repeatedly made similar remarks advocating a positive fiscal policy. He has also recently upped references to budgetary and financial resources in connection with an increase in defense spending.

Aso is the only one of the three men positioned to support Kishida from within the party leadership. On the evening of May 19, Aso dined with Abe and Toshimitsu Motegi, the party’s secretary-general, and talked about the upcoming election.

On May 23, Aso also dined with Suga, who keeps a certain distance from Kishida. Aso invited Suga to his house four days later where they and their wives shared a meal while reportedly talking about the ups and downs of past elections.

At a meeting of his faction held May 26, Aso said, “Narratives suggesting splits within the party prior to an election have never elicited favorable outcomes.” Such words suggest Aso is determined to ensure stability within the LDP.

Suga has visited various parts of the country to support prospective candidates in the upper house race. Following a trip to Okayama Prefecture on May 29, he dashed to Fukuoka to attend May 30 a political fund-raising party for Ryota Takeda, a member of the House of Representatives. Takeda, who belongs to the faction led by Toshihiro Nikai, served as minister for internal affairs and communications in the Suga administration.

During a speech at the party, Suga touched on recent cuts in mobile phone rates — which he had suggested while serving as chief cabinet secretary — saying, “Minister Takeda effectively realized [the cuts] that I had strived to bring about for three years.” Suga will continue dotting around the country every weekend until the end of the election.

A veteran member of the LDP said the view within the party was that the three former prime ministers were thinking about their post-election rivalry in terms of securing key posts. If the LDP triumphs in the upper house election, it is likely that LDP president Kishida will shuffle his Cabinet and make changes in the party’s senior leadership.

Abe and Aso lead their own factions, while Suga, who is not affiliated with a faction, is supported by two groups within the party, comprising legislators close to him.

The present jockeying for position reflects the high post-election stakes, making it likely that all three men will further intensify their activities in the runup to the election.