State of LDP Factions / Splits in Takeshita Faction in Japan’s Ruling Party Weaken Former Monolith

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, right, and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi speak during a Diet session on Nov. 19.

This is the fourth 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.

The jeering by opposition lawmakers grew fierce in the chamber of the House of Councillors on Oct. 30. It was directed not at Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga but toward the seats for Cabinet ministers.

“The finance minister and foreign minister haven’t stopped talking to each other,” said one of the hecklers.

While Suga was answering questions, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi huddled together and continued to whisper. Despite being jeered, the two ministers were so absorbed in talking about the prospects for the U.S. presidential election in November and the Chiba gubernatorial election set for next April that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Naoki Okada was forced to call out to them.

Motegi and Aso have been closing ranks, attracting attention in the political arena of Nagatacho where the Diet is located. Aso gave Motegi credit for his political ability in hammering out a trade agreement with the United States and his handling of Diet interpellations, telling people around him, “He is highly capable.” Motegi, for his part, frequently visited the Finance Ministry to report on the process of trade negotiations, thus giving Aso due consideration.

On the evening of Oct. 22, Aso and Motegi were savoring their dinner at a French restaurant in Tokyo when the conversation turned to Shigeru Ishiba, who had resigned as chairman of his faction within the Liberal Democratic Party that afternoon.

“My faction and Heiseiken are the second-largest factions in terms of number of members,” Aso reportedly said to Motegi, referring to his own faction and the 54-member Takeshita faction of which Motegi serves as acting chairman. That faction was established by former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita and is officially known as Heisei Kenkyukai, or Heiseiken for short.

“It wouldn’t even make any sense if either takes sole possession of second place by adding a few members,” Aso continued, referring to rumors that Ishiba faction members will join the Takeshita faction. “It’s questionable whether it’s advisable to boost the number of faction members.”

Motegi bowed his head in consent.

Motegi has been fretting about how to maintain a relationship with former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Three days after he dined with Aso, Motegi played golf at the Three Hundred Club in Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, with Aso, Abe and former minister in charge of economic revitalization Nobuteru Ishihara.

“Trump may cling to his post even if he loses the presidential election,” Motegi reportedly told Abe, adding that if that was the case, “Abe-san will be asked to be a special envoy to tell him, ‘Donald, let’s step down together.'”

Abe responded to Motegi’s joke with a smile.

For Motegi, who has his sights set on one day being a candidate for LDP president, relations with Aso and Abe will become his strongest weapon. If the Aso and Takeshita factions team up with the Hosoda faction of 98 members to which Abe belonged before becoming prime minister, their combined numerical strength will surpass half of all LDP lawmakers.

Of course, as things stand at present, this is nothing but a numbers game. Motegi has not necessarily established his position within the Takeshita faction to become an LDP presidential candidate.

When Abe announced his resignation in August, calls emerged within the Takeshita faction for Motegi to run in the presidential race.

During a Takeshita faction meeting on Aug. 31, young lower house members raised their hands one after another to call for Motegi’s candidacy. “The only option is to throw his hat into the ring,” one of them said. “Our faction also wants to put up a candidate to go against the other factions,” said another.

Junichi Ishii, acting secretary general for the LDP in the House of Councillors, flatly rejected the call for Motegi’s candidacy.

“If the decision to put forth Motegi is made by lower house members of the faction alone, it would split the faction into lower and upper house groups,” Ishii said. “It is too early to mention any specific person.”

Faction Chairman Wataru Takeshita, a half-brother of the faction’s founder, wrapped up the meeting by saying, “I want to see Heiseiken remain a monolith.”

Two days later, Takeshita announced the faction’s support for Suga in the LDP presidential race.

Upper house members of the faction, who have pronounced independent streaks, have a strong distrust of Motegi. When they called for the resignation of then faction Chairman Fukushiro Nukaga in 2018, Motegi moved to block their bid.

In the September 2018 presidential election contested by Abe and Ishiba, Motegi, who supported Abe, moved to break the unity of the upper house members of the Takeshita faction, who had decided to support Ishiba, leaving behind some ill will.

Mikio Aoki is a former chairman of the LDP’s caucus in the upper house and still wields influence in the chamber and over the faction chairman. He is considering “eventually having the faction taken over by Yuko Obuchi,” a daughter of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

After Obuchi resigned as economy minister in 2014 over a political funds scandal, she had refrained from visibly conducting political activity. Now that the probation period for her former secretary involved in the scandal has expired, she has begun to gradually reappear on the political stage.

Faction Chairman Takeshita has just come back to the post after recuperating from esophageal cancer and there is still anxiety about his health. Thus, some faction members have proposed installing Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato as Takeshita’s successor and to later hand the post to the 46-year-old Obuchi.

Kato is 65, the same age as Motegi. Kato has won election to the lower house six times while Motegi has done so nine times.

“I owe much to Motegi-san, who helped me in election campaigns and appointments to posts,” Kato said to young faction members when explaining that he has no intention whatsoever of running for the LDP presidency ahead of Motegi.

Since fielding former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who lost to Junichiro Koizumi in the 2001 LDP presidential election, the Takeshita faction has not been united on entering another presidential candidate. Can the distinguished faction, which derived from the Tanaka faction that was led by former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and noted for its ironclad unity, become monolithic again?

History of breaking up

The origin of the Takeshita faction can be traced to the Sato faction led by former Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. The faction underwent a history of repeatedly splitting up whenever its leader changed, from former Prime Minister Tanaka to former Prime Minister Takeshita, then to former Prime Minister Obuchi.

In April 1994, during the period of the Obuchi faction, the name of the faction founded by Takeshita was changed from Keiseikai to Heisei Seiji Kenkyukai.

In the 2003 presidential election, former LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka and the faction’s House of Representatives members supported former transport minister Takao Fujii, but Aoki and the faction’s other upper house members backed the incumbent LDP President Koizumi, thus effectively splitting up the faction. From July 2004 to December 2005, the two camps held general meetings separately.

During the peak of the Tanaka faction, the faction boasted about the political influence it exerted as for a long time it was the largest LDP faction with over 140 members. But since Obuchi collapsed while he was in office, no lawmaker from the faction has become prime minister.

Currently, Taimei Yamaguchi, chair of the LDP Election Strategy Committee, and Yoshitaka Shindo, former internal affairs and communications minister, are among the 54 members of the Takeshita faction.