State of LDP Factions / Kishida under Pressure to Expand Support Base

The Yomiuri Shimbun
From left: Tetsuo Saito, Fumio Kishida and Makoto Koga

This is the sixth installment in a series examining the current state of the Liberal Democratic Party by looking at factions that were in the spotlight during the party’s presidential election this year.


On the morning of Nov. 19, Norio Mitsuya visited the office of his fellow Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Fumio Kishida and emphatically said, “Please say in front of reporters: ‘Komeito is irrational. We can’t agree with them.'”

Mitsuya’s title is acting head of the secretariat of Kochikai, an LDP faction led by Kishida.

Regarding the selection of a candidate in the House of Representatives Hiroshima Constituency No. 3, members of the faction were deeply discontented with Komeito.

Kochikai, also known as the Kishida faction, was forced on the defensive because of Komeito’s well-organized public relations efforts.

But Kishida did not accept Mitsuya’s demand. Also, during standing chats with reporters on the day, he repeatedly remarked in a detached manner, “It is a task that the whole of the LDP should consider.”

Hiroshima Prefecture is known in political circles as the “kingdom of Kochikai.” In the LDP’s Hiroshima prefectural federation of party branches, Yoichi Miyazawa, a House of Councillors member belonging to the faction, serves as the head and Kishida, who is also from Hiroshima, serves as a permanent adviser.

In early October, the Komeito side consulted Kishida about a plan to field its own candidate in the Hiroshima Constituency No. 3.

After former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, who was elected from the constituency, and his wife Anri were arrested in June on suspicion of violations of the Public Offices Election Law, Komeito’s Hiroshima prefectural headquarters received a flood of critical opinions from its supporters saying that they no longer wanted to back LDP candidates.

Three weeks later, Miyazawa replied to Komeito saying, “The LDP will hold open recruitment.” Members of Komeito and Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organization that is Komeito’s main support base, reacted with anger. One of them said: “They let our request sit for three weeks! How dare they totally ignore our plan?”

Komeito decided to field Tetsuo Saito, deputy leader of the party, as a candidate to run in the constituency, and openly expressed its stance of not supporting LDP candidates from the Kishida faction across the nation in the next lower house election.

“Why has this become Kochikai’s problem?” Kishida has lamented. But discontent inside the faction is being directed at Kishida himself.

A senior member of the faction said: “Why doesn’t Mr. Kishida get angry? The right thing to do would have been to turn [Komeito’s request] down as soon as he heard it.”

Kishida had been one of the most promising candidates to succeed former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But his basic strategy of waiting for a transfer of power based on Abe’s own will crumbled when Yoshihide Suga threw his hat into the ring in the LDP presidential election in September.

In the party leadership race, Kishida made many clear-cut remarks, and thus other politicians evaluated him as “having grown up.”

Kishida began touring across the nation, targeting the next LDP presidential election, and established policy study meetings to which he invited members of all party factions.

But inside the faction, which lost its mainstream status, opinion gaps have begun surfacing.

In early October, two members of the faction argued. Shunsuke Takei, who is in his third term in the lower house, told Takumi Nemoto, “Though your job is taking care of personnel affairs of our faction members, aren’t you prioritizing your own interests?”

Takei made the remark when he abruptly visited Nemoto’s office. Nemoto is head of the secretariat of the Kishida faction.

Takei saw it problematic that Nemoto took some posts, including chairman of the lower house’s special committee, while junior and mid-ranked faction members have been struggling to gain any posts in the Diet.

Nemoto countered, “Though I have been a Diet member for more than 20 years, this is the first time I have experienced such disrespect.”

Some members of the faction had deepened a sense of discontent toward Nemoto already, during the previous LDP presidential election campaign period. One of them said, “Mr. Nemoto should work on other factions more proactively.”

Kishida’s relationship with Makoto Koga, former head of Kochikai, has also become unstable. When Kishida visited Koga’s office in mid-September, Koga said to him: “As you ran in the party presidential race, isn’t this the time for you to become independent [from me]? You need to make hard choices on various issues.”

Koga apparently had in mind the relationship between himself and Taro Aso, deputy prime minister and finance minister. The two have been in a long-lasting political rivalry in their home turfs in Fukuoka Prefecture.

During the previous LDP presidential race, on the evening of Aug. 28, when Abe announced his resignation as prime minister, Kishida and Koga had dinner together. Knowing that, Aso voiced his sense of displeasure to his aides, “Why does [Kishida] meet with Koga with this timing?”

Kishida did not immediately respond to Koga’s advice, and replied over the telephone a week later saying, “I will keep a distance [from you].”

Koga expressed dissatisfaction with Kishida having replied only over the phone, and Kishida hurriedly went to Koga’s office near the Diet building.

Since then, Koga has kept his distance from the Kishida faction to a certain degree. Koga openly expressed his intention to resign from the post of honorary head of Kochikai.

He did not attend a party held by the Kishida faction on Oct. 5, not even sending a message. Among faction members, there was speculation that some members who were close to Koga might leave the faction.

Kishida then told each of the faction members: “I did not sever ties [with Koga]. Both of us consider it natural to keep an appropriate distance.”

To prevent his faction from succumbing to anxiety, Kishida invited faction members one by one to his office to seek their understanding.

Suga’s term as LDP president expires in September next year. It is anticipated that if Suga manages his administration without failures, the next LDP presidential election will be uncontested.

A senior member of the faction recently told Kishida, “If you can’t win next year, you can run in the race after the next.”

But Kishida said, “I can’t wait for such a long time.” Kishida, who is now 63, is feeling the pressure of demand for generational shifts.

Kochikai was established in June 1957 by Hayato Ikeda, who would later go on to become prime minister. It has a 63-year history. Currently, there are seven factions in the LDP, and Kochikai’s history is the longest.

The faction’s official name, Kochikai, comes from a book by Ma Rong, a Chinese scholar in the Dong Han period (25-220 A.D.).

So far, four faction members have become prime ministers: Ikeda, Masayoshi Ohira, Zenko Suzuki and Kiichi Miyazawa. When the LDP was an opposition party, Yohei Kono and Sadakazu Tanigaki became party presidents from the faction.

The faction carries on the basic policy of Shigeru Yoshida, a long-serving postwar prime minister who was Ikeda’s political mentor. The policy aims for a lightly armed nation and places importance on the economy. So the faction regards itself as the mainstream of conservatism in the LDP.

While many of the faction’s members are former bureaucrats who have deep policy knowledge, they are seen as poorly skilled when it comes to power battles. Thus the faction has been sometimes ridiculed as “a group of court nobles.”

In 2000, the faction split in two in the wake of a political battle called Kato’s rebellion. In the incident, former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato, the sixth head of Kochikai, tried to support a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

Both a group supporting Kato and another group led by former International Trade and Industry Minister Mitsuo Horiuchi insisted that the name of their group was Kochikai. It was an abnormal situation for an LDP faction.

Currently, 47 belong to the faction. They include former Defense Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Minister for Digital Transformation Takuya Hirai. It is now the fifth-largest faction in the LDP.