Abe faction settles on temporary leadership lineup

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ryu Shionoya, standing, addresses the Abe faction during a meeting on Thursday. A photo of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was placed at the spot where he would have sat.

The Liberal Democratic Party’s largest faction, which had been led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, decided on an interim leadership structure at its general meeting on Thursday. It was the first meeting since Abe was fatally shot on July 8.

The lineup will revolve around acting chairmen Hakubun Shimomura and Ryu Shionoya until Sept. 27, the date set for Abe’s state funeral. However, the Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai faction, as it is officially called, lacks a universally supported successor to Abe as chairman, so it remains possible that the group could split up after Abe’s funeral.

During the meeting, a portrait of Abe and a bouquet of flowers were placed on the table in front of the chair where Abe had sat as chairman. In his opening address, Shionoya said the faction members had a duty to stay “united” and carry on Abe’s wishes. Shionoya explained a plan under which the current leadership structure without a chairman would remain in place for the time being. The faction’s name will stay unchanged, as a step to ensure that maintaining unity is a priority. No objections were raised by those attending, so the plan was approved.

“We must work together even more closely and stay devoted,” Shimomura said to reporters after the meeting.

Discussions on the faction’s leadership structure are expected to resume after Abe’s state funeral has been completed.

After the meeting, former minister in charge of economic revitalization Yasutoshi Nishimura, the secretary general of the faction, met with former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori — a former head of the faction — near the Diet and reported the results of the meeting.

Attendees at Thursday’s meeting were informed that House of Councillors lawmakers Seiko Hashimoto and Seiichi Eto had joined the faction. Consequently, the group now has 95 members and accounts for a quarter of the 373 LDP-affiliated lawmakers.

The faction is prepared to rely on a structure centered on veteran lawmakers to navigate the coming weeks while lacking a top leader. However, it has become clear, even from the outside, that maintaining cohesion will be difficult. In an email newsletter dated Wednesday, former LDP Secretary General Akira Amari, a member of the faction led by LDP Vice President Taro Aso, suggested that the Abe faction currently does not have a single person with the strength and charisma to steer the entire group.

A Cabinet reshuffle and appointment of LDP executives scheduled for as soon as early September is shaping up as the first major challenge for the faction’s new leadership. Shionoya is set to be the liaison who would convey the faction’s requests to Prime Minister and LDP President Fumio Kishida, and his ability to gain results befitting the LDP’s largest faction will be tested.

“If the Abe faction is treated coldly, I think calls for an overhaul of its structure will grow louder,” a source inside the faction said.

The largest potential source of internal friction is the race to be appointed as the faction’s next leader, who would become a candidate for party president and, in consequence, prime minister.

Among faction members, Nishimura ran in the LDP’s 2009 leadership election, and Shimomura also has indicated a willingness to throw his hat in the ring. Secretary General for the LDP in the House of Councillors Hiroshige Seko, who leads the faction in the upper house, said on a television program in March that he has aspirations of becoming prime minister.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda, who was close to Abe and has a good relationship with Mori and other key officials, also has supporters within the faction. Younger faction members are getting behind LDP General Council Chairperson Tatsuo Fukuda, who has been elected to the lower house four times and is a grandson of the faction’s founder Takeo Fukuda, who served as prime minister from 1976 to 1978.

Abe did not nominate a successor as faction leader. “Whoever becomes the new chair, some people will complain,” a senior official said, expressing a view widely shared within the faction. Discussions on the new leadership structure come with the real risk that this situation could lead to the faction splitting apart.