Abe increasing influence at helm of LDP’s largest faction

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, fourth from right, attends a fundraising event for his Liberal Democratic Party faction in Tokyo on Monday.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s growing clout in the Liberal Democratic Party was evident at his faction’s first political fundraiser since he assumed the leadership of the LDP’s largest bloc in November.

Attention has now fallen on his relationship with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his ability to unite the 95-member faction.

“I want to promise that all 95 of us will work together to support the Kishida administration. That’s our responsibility,” Abe said at the fundraiser held at a hotel in Tokyo.

Party heavyweights from other factions attended the fundraiser, including Kishida, LDP Vice President Taro Aso and LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi.

The prime minister said Abe is “supporting the Kishida Cabinet from the center [of the party]. I am very grateful, and it has a significant meaning in stabilizing the political situation.”

Abe became the chairperson of the faction formerly led by Hiroyuki Hosoda in mid-November.

The number of faction members decreased after the recent House of Representatives election, but almost immediately recovered to the preelection tally with the addition of newly elected lawmakers and others.

One in four LDP Diet members belongs to the Abe faction. The Aso faction is the next-largest faction with 53 members.

Abe, who has consistently shown his support for the Kishida Cabinet, has also been a close ally of Aso, who was a long-standing member of the Abe administration.

Kishida leads the fifth-largest LDP faction and wants to strengthen his position by expanding cooperation with Aso and Motegi while taking into consideration the backing he has received from Abe.

However, some veterans in the Abe faction are wary of Kishida and Aso becoming closer, fearing a faction tie-up.

The origins of the Aso faction can be traced back to a predecessor of the Kishida faction.

If the Kishida and Aso factions were to join forces, the new group would rival the Abe faction in terms of size.

In the past, Kishida has expressed interest in unifying the factions.

Abe, who is said to be keeping a watchful eye on the alliance between the two faction leaders, visited the Prime Minister’s Office on Nov. 30 and reiterated his intention to support Kishida.

Abe also maintains a good relationship with the party’s Policy Research Council Chairperson Sanae Takaichi, who ran against Kishida in this year’s LDP leadership election.

The close connection between Takaichi and Abe has been noted by observers, who have suggested that Abe’s relationship with Takaichi is a way for him to keep Kishida in check.

The Abe faction is not without concerns.

Faction member Shuji Yamada, who represents the Ishikawa district in the House of Councillors, has expressed his intention to run in the Ishikawa gubernatorial election next spring.

He is likely to be running against former education minister Hiroshi Hase, who used to be a member and is now an associate member of the faction, which would split conservative votes.

According to a party official, Abe “does not have a firm grip on his faction.”

If Yamada resigns from the upper house, a by-election for his seat will be held in April ahead of next summer’s upper house election.

“We have no choice but to win the by-election,” a senior faction member said.