Kishida remains active in his LDP faction

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left, and Yoshimasa Hayashi attend a meeting of the Kochikai faction in Tokyo in September last year.

Although many prime ministers keep their distance from their faction while in office, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida remains active in the Liberal Democratic Party’s Kochikai faction, which he leads. Kishida frequently meets with Kochikai lawmakers and attends faction meetings, apparently aiming to maintain its unity and solidify his base within the LDP.

“I want you to work hard to bring victory to both the LDP as a whole and the lawmakers of the Kochikai faction in the House of Councillors election,” Kishida said Tuesday at a meeting of faction executives, urging them to be fully prepared to support LDP candidates in the summer race.

Even after becoming prime minister last October, Kishida has remained his faction’s leader, attending its Thursday afternoon meetings about once a month.

The LDP has in the past arranged for senior party officials and Cabinet members to leave their factions. In its outline for political reform compiled in 1989, the party called for those serving as prime minister (party president), in three key party posts and all Cabinet members to leave their factions. This was a response to criticism following the Recruit scandal that factions had become a breeding ground for “money politics.”

Leaving one’s faction later became just a formality, until former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who advocated “politics without factional restraints,” left the faction led by Yoshiro Mori to run for LDP president in 2001. Since then the practice has continued in the party.

Although LDP Vice President Taro Aso remained a member of his faction after becoming prime minister in 2008, he refrained from any overt activities, making Kishida’s vigorous participation unusual.

“Being the prime minister is hard work, so Mr. Kishida is constantly on edge. He attends [meetings] to see his close associates and relax his mind,” said Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara, a close aide to Kishida.

However, a veteran faction member said some in the faction believe Kishida is doing so “to prevent his faction from being taken over.”

The No. 2 position in Kochikai is currently held by Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, who is expected to be a candidate for prime minister some day. If Kishida is absent from faction activities, Hayashi’s presence may grow.

Kishida has appointed Takumi Nemoto, his faction’s secretary general and a former health, labor and welfare minister, as acting leader of Kochikai, to make sure he keeps a close eye on the situation.

According to information gathered by The Yomiuri Shimbun, Kishida has met with Nemoto 27 times since becoming prime minister. This is more often than anyone else in the faction, with the exception of Cabinet members, such as Kihara and fellow Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki.

Yoko Kamikawa, an LDP acting secretary general, followed Nemoto with 11 meetings with Kishida.

Kishida frequently meets with both Nemoto and Kamikawa at the Prime Minister’s Office.

“The Prime Minister’s Office is where the nation’s leader conducts official duties. So, he should refrain from conducting what appear to be factional activities there,” said a senior LDP member.