Rank-and-file LDP members’ voting trends seen as key for Japan PM’s successor race

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Members of the Osaka chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party count ballots during the preliminary election for LDP presidential race, in Osaka City, in September 2020.

Rank-and-file members of the Liberal Democratic Party will be a much-watched voting bloc leading into the party presidential election to be held on Sept. 29. As they proportionally share an equal voting weight as LDP Diet members, they will greatly affect the outcome of the election. The results will also serve as a yardstick for judging who is worthy of becoming the party’s face in the campaign for the upcoming House of Representatives election. Since the opinions of rank-and-file party members better reflect the pulse of the general public than the those of lawmakers, candidates for the LDP presidency will be expected to court rank-and-file party members for their support.

Change of circumstances

Former LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida visited a shopping district in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, on Friday to drum up public support. Many shops in the district are in financial trouble due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. “I want to continue to make efforts to communicate clearly to the public, and each and every party member,” he told reporters after the visit. The Kishida camp has also begun manning the phones to seek support from party members.

The Kishida camp had believed that it would be advantageous for him to square off one-on-one with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose grip on the party has been weakening. But the calculus changed when Suga announced Friday his intention not to seek reelection as LDP president.

If Taro Kono, the minister in charge of administrative and regulatory reform, and Shigeru Ishiba, former LDP secretary general do run, they will likely gain plenty of support from party members, considering the results of opinion polls gauging who people want for the next prime minister. The situation has contributed to a sense of urgency in the Kishida camp.

The LDP presidential election will be conducted in a “complete form” by nationwide vote of all party members because it comes with the end of a term. Party members used to control 300 votes, until the party presidential election rules were revised in 2014 to give them a voting parity with Diet members. In the upcoming election, if no candidate wins a majority of the 766 total votes in the first round of balloting, a runoff will be held to decide the president from the top two candidates.

Front-runner lost in past

The support of rank-and-file party members has proved pivotal in deciding the outcome of some past LDP presidential elections.

In the 2001 election, Junichiro Koizumi garnered overwhelming support in the primary election held by all the LDP prefectural chapters, winning nearly 90% of the total votes. In the run-up to the House of Councillors election, many Diet members supported Koizumi at the time, as a good “face of the election.” As a result, Ryutaro Hashimoto, former prime minister, who was seen as a front-runner, lost the race.

After that, the party headquarters asked prefectural chapters not to announce the chapters’ result of party members’ vote in advance so as not to affect Diet members’ voting behavior.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An artist illustration : LDP presidential election