As Motegi takes up high post in Japan’s ruling LDP, next year’s election looms large

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi walks to a press conference at the party’s headquarters in Tokyo on Thursday.

Newly named Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi has a lengthy to-do list, but he is keeping his cards close to his chest for now.

Among the major tasks awaiting Motegi, appointed to the post Thursday, are building a path toward victory in next summer’s House of Councillors election, and pushing ahead with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s signature policy of reforming the ruling party. Coordinating with Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, will likely also test Motegi’s skills.

Motegi spoke of his aspirations as secretary general at a press conference Thursday. Referring to the 2022 upper house election, he said, “I’ll steadily move forward with preparations and crafting a party framework so we’ll win the election.”

Some LDP candidates in the recent House of Representatives election faced hard-fought contests due to the strategy of opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party, to put forward a single candidate in many constituencies. Even worse for the LDP was the defeat of every candidate it backed in constituencies in Osaka, the home turf of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).

Motegi plans to analyze the distinctive features and issues that emerged in each region during that election and tailor a strategy for the upper house poll accordingly.

During September’s LDP presidential election, Kishida proposed significant reforms to the party, such as limiting the terms of LDP executives. “I want to consider making rules for a modern political party,” Motegi said at the press conference, indicating his intention to follow Kishida’s lead.

The secretary general wields tremendous clout within the party, including the right to officially approve LDP candidates in elections and authority over the allocation of party funds. Motegi’s predecessor, Akira Amari, reportedly even got involved in the appointment of cabinet ministers and state ministers, which ruffled the feathers of some party members.

In a bid to avoid a repeat of such problems, for the time being Motegi appears set to focus on taking a safety-first approach as he steers the party’s operations. At Thursday’s press conference, his comments on party personnel appointments were noticeably subdued. “This is day one,” Motegi said. “I want to carefully make those arrangements as we move forward.”

Motegi’s first cabinet post came in 2003, when he was appointed minister of state for Okinawa and northern territories affairs. His reputation for having the ability to get things done led to him holding key positions including chairperson of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, economic revitalization minister, and foreign minister. After steadily climbing the career ladder, Motegi has finally landed the position of secretary general. “That’s a post I had coveted,” Motegi had told his close aides.

Motegi’s skills as the LDP management linchpin will be tested by the party’s ties with its coalition partner, Komeito. During his stint as head of the LDP’s Election Strategy Committee, Motegi worked hard to coordinate with Komeito. This experience earned him a reputation within Komeito as “someone who always keeps their word,” a senior official of that party told The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Looking ahead, Motegi will work closely with the heads of the Policy Research Council and Election Strategy Committee to compile economic policies to be included a draft supplementary budget for fiscal 2021. His other key tasks will include making arrangements for backing candidates in the upper chamber election.

Motegi has been acting chairperson of the party’s Takeshita faction since April 2018. He apparently also has ambitions of rising to chairperson, a slot previously held by Wataru Takeshita, a former reconstruction minister who died in September. During the recent lower house election, Motegi was out and about supporting candidates from the faction.

However, Motegi reportedly is not on good terms with all the Takeshita faction members in the upper house, a group still heavily influenced by Mikio Aoki, a former chairperson of the general assembly of party members of the House of Councillors. Some LDP lawmakers in this chamber are not eager to see Motegi appointed as faction chairman.