• Political Series

Hidden Funds: Consequences of a Corrupt Practice / Kishida Bets on Other Party Factions Disbanding; Disagreements with Aso, Motegi Could Causes Rifts

The Yomiuri Shimbun
At the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida answers questions from reporters about the dissolution of the factions within the party.

In light of the scandal over the practice of creating hidden funds through political fundraising parties by the factions of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, public distrust in politics has increased.

This is the first installment in a series of articles in which The Yomiuri Shimbun looks at the growing sense of crisis among LDP lawmakers, how the practice had been conducted over the years, and the challenges facing the legal system.

After Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, also the LDP president, announced the intention to dissolve the Kishida faction on Thursday night , the voice of Taro Aso, the party’s vice president, sounded tense when he spoke to Kishida over the phone.

“As there have been neither arrest nor indictment on our part, we will keep our faction,” he said.

“There has been a problem with our faction and we will show where we stand on this matter. The Aso faction should make its own decision,” Kishida responded, without raising any objections.

Kishida did not discuss with the leaders of other factions his intention to dissolve his faction. Toshimitsu Motegi, the party’s secretary-general and the leader of the Motegi faction, was annoyed by Kishida’s announcement. According to a source, Motegi told his aide after contacting Aso, “It is unthinkable that he took such an important step without consulting us.”

For the prime minister, the “dissolution of his faction” had been a secret scheme he had been mulling over since the scandal of political fundraising parties first came to light.

He had even considered spelling it out in December, but was stopped by those around him. Instead, he only announced his intention to leave his own faction.

While Kishida remained irresolute, the prospect emerged that the former accounting manager of the Kishida faction would be indicted, giving Kishida the final push to decide to go ahead with the dissolution.

Kishida has high hopes that, as the party’s president, if he takes the lead in dissolving his faction, it will create a current within the party, which would cause Aso and Motegi, who attach importance to the faction system, would eventually come into line.

Kishida made this decision as he has calculated that the Abe faction, the party’s largest, and the Nikai faction, both of which have been hit heavily by the latest scandal, will have no choice but to dissolve, leaving the majority of legislators in the party with no affiliation to any particular faction.

“Things should be initiated by the one who first says them.” Kishida said, explaining the significance of the plan to dissolve the Kishida faction to the party’s Diet members he met with at the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday.

However, if the dissolution of his faction does not lead to the dissolution of all LDP factions, Kishida’s leverage within the party will inevitably decline, which may cause the political reform itself, including making the political funds more transparent, to stagnate.

The prime minister has much relied on the support of both Aso and Motegi, who lead the second and third largest factions in the party.

If a rift develops between Kishida and the two, his administration could become unstable. Kishida’s decision carries huge risks.

Factions on their way to dissolution

The 96-member Abe faction held an extraordinary general meeting at the party headquarters on Friday. Although the meeting was officially announced only that morning, about 70 faction members flocked into the room, making the venue shrouded in a tense atmosphere.

“Various opinions have been expressed, including the pros and cons of dissolving the faction. I am certain that some sort of conclusion will be reached.” Ryu Shionoya, the faction’s coordinator, announced.

One attendee after another called for the dissolution of the faction. Hiroyuki Miyazawa, former state minister of defense, said, “We knew about the kickbacks from the proceeds of fundraising parties. We must dissolve our faction with our collective will.”

The general meeting was originally intended to focus on explaining the circumstances of how the latest scandal of the Political Funds Control Law violation came about.

But, after Kishida announced on Thursday to dissolve his own faction, the meeting came to be perceived as a forum for them to decide the future of their own faction.

After the meeting, Masahiko Shibayama, former education minister, told reporters, “None of our members called for the continuation of our faction.”

Meanwhile, at an extraordinary meeting of the 38-member Nikai faction, former party Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai grimly announced at the start of the meeting his intention to dissolve the faction.

It was met with a succession of approval from the members, with Koichi Tani, former national public safety commission chairman, saying, “I would like to respect his painful decision.” A middle-level member of the faction commented, “The faction is like a family, but we have no other choice.”

Midair disintegration

The Abe and Nikai factions moved to dissolve themselves at once because they judged that the impact of the unfolding scandal would be unfathomable and that it would be difficult to rebuild their footing.

The Abe faction, which has been without a leader since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe died, has been managed under a collective leadership of “five members,” including former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno.

In the latest scandal, however, those five members became the center of suspicion, taking the faction to, as a former cabinet member put it, “the verge of midair disintegration.”

Meanwhile, in the Nikai faction, which has been in a non-mainstream position under the Kishida administration, there were motives at work behind their move toward dissolving the faction. As one senior official put it: “Demonstrating our stance of leading the reform will make it more favorable for us to fight the next election.”

Between the Abe, Nikai, and Kishida factions, whose officials in charge of accounting and others have been charged criminally, and other factions, there are differences in the sense of crisis over the latest scandal.

Aso, the leader of a 56-member faction, and Motegi, the leader of a 53-member faction, have rated highly the significance of the faction system in that it helps educate their lawmakers and share information.

Kishida met with both Aso and Motegi at the party headquarters on Friday and explained the reasons for dissolving his faction.

Afterwards, both Aso and Motegi expressed they would “consult thoroughly” with their faction members regarding future actions they should take.

The eight-member faction led by Hiroshi Moriyama has also demonstrated a wait-and-see stance toward the situation.

A senior member of the Motegi faction showed his sense of caution, saying, “The prime minister’s announcement of the dissolution of his faction is a case of ‘the lord has gone out of his mind,’ but if we unwisely criticize him, we might end up being isolated within the party.”

On the other hand, within the Kishida faction, some have rated the faction’s dissolution highly, saying, “It should be well received by the public, thus giving momentum for Kishida’s reelection as the party’s president.”

However, a middle-level Diet member expressed concerns about opposition from the mainstream Aso and Motegi factions, saying, “For smooth management of the party, the prime minister should have obtained a prior understanding from Aso at least.”