With eye on upper house election, Kishida to replace LDP secretary general

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic Party President Fumio Kishida, right, and LDP Secretary General Akira Amari, second from left, attend an LDP board meeting in Tokyo on Monday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has decided to appoint Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi to replace Akira Amari as the Liberal Democratic Party secretary general.

Amari was defeated in his single-seat constituency in Sunday’s lower house election, but won a Diet seat in the proportional representation section. After this result, he expressed his intention to step down, but some in the ruling party called for him to remain as secretary general after the LDP secured a single-party majority.

With Kishida’s eyes on next summer’s House of Councillors election, however, the LDP president decided that reassigning the key post of secretary general was inevitable in order to make progress toward realizing his policy goals.

“Amari said he would entrust me with the decision on whether he should resign. I will decide as soon as possible after discussing the matter with him,” Kishida said stiffly, avoiding a detailed explanation during a press conference at LDP headquarters on Monday afternoon.

Amari met with Kishida late Sunday night and expressed his intention to resign after his defeat in a single-seat constituency became certain, the first such election loss for an LDP secretary general. Amari reiterated to Kishida his intention to resign before the prime minister’s press conference.

As a result, those around Kishida had expected him to immediately announce Amari’s successor at the press conference. “There’s no point in procrastinating,” one said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi celebrates his election win in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, on Sunday.

However, Kishida did not name a replacement at once. He seemed to feel that the issue had to be handled cautiously, going through careful procedures.

Amari’s past connection with a political fund scandal when he was a cabinet minister became a target for the opposition parties, and was one of the factors behind the LDP’s struggles in the general election.

Concern was spreading among the members of the Kishida faction.

“If Amari is allowed to continue to serve, he will once again become an easy target for the opposition parties,” a senior faction official said. “A secretary general who lost in a single-seat constituency cannot be expected to drive momentum.”

Kishida is said to have been aware of the concerns. However, LDP Vice President Taro Aso, who leads the Aso faction to which Amari belongs, thought Amari’s resignation was unnecessary, as the LDP had secured more seats than expected at Sunday’s election.

“He led the fight, and the party won a controlling majority. I can’t understand why a secretary general like that has to resign,” Aso reportedly said to people around him.

Stable administration

After the press conference, Kishida spent over three hours at the LPD president’s office at party headquarters.

According to sources, the prime minister had careful discussions with Amari about issues including Amari’s successor, and narrowed down his choice to Motegi.

Motegi has served as economy, trade and industry minister, and chaired the LDP Policy Research Council and the LDP Election Strategy Committee. He is also the acting chairman of the Takeshita faction and has good relationships with senior officials of the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito.

The offer to serve as secretary general, a post that has tremendous authority in approving candidates and allocating party funds, was viewed as a godsend by Motegi, as it will be an opportunity to solidify his foothold in the party as a post-Kishida candidate for prime minister, according to a Takeshita faction official.

Through Sunday’s general election, the prime minister passed the first test to achieve a stable administration. However, there is an urgent sense that an uphill battle in next summer’s upper house election is unavoidable unless Kishida puts his policies into practice and produces results as soon as possible.

When Kishida invited Motegi to party headquarters to ask him to become secretary general, Kishida reportedly reminded Motegi: “The upper house election comes right after next year’s ordinary Diet session. Please keep that in mind.