Leadership contest stirs in Abe faction

Kentaro Ono / The Yomiuri Shimbun
LDP lawmaker Hiroshige Seko visits a statue of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on Tuesday.

A leadership grab appears to have kicked off in the largest faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, involving LDP Policy Research Council chair Koichi Hagiuda and LDP House of Councillors Secretary General Hiroshige Seko.

The 97-member faction previously led by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has not yet selected a new leader and is hoping to avoid a split amid a succession struggle. Meanwhile, the absence of a figurehead has reduced its influence within the party, according to some members of the faction.

“Abe-san always remained close to Taiwan,” Seko told reporters on Tuesday during his visit to Taiwan. “We will strive to deepen the ties between Japan and Taiwan.”

Seko and nine other upper house lawmakers from the faction laid flowers at a bronze statue of Abe in Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan and observed a moment of silence. The statue was erected by Taiwan volunteers about two months after Abe’s death.

Seko may have been attempting to show inside and outside of the faction that he will continue Abe’s legacy.

Hagiuda also visited Taiwan this month. His trip from Dec. 10 to 12 was the first visit to Taiwan by a top-ranking LDP member in 19 years.

During a meeting with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, Hagiuda revealed that Abe had planned to visit the grave of former President Lee Teng-hui in September, and told her that he would visit the grave “on Abe’s behalf.”

The activities of Seko and Hagiuda are widely viewed within the faction as a battle to showcase themselves as potential leadership successors.

The faction is temporarily being steered by acting leaders Ryu Shionoya and Hakubun Shimomura with the support of five key members comprising Hagiuda, Seko, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, and LDP Diet Affairs Committee chair Tsuyoshi Takagi.

On Dec. 13, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, a former head of the faction, met with the five members at a hotel in Tokyo and instructed them to continue working together. “We must avoid a split in the faction,” a senior member said.

However, the faction’s declining influence was evident in the debate on tax increases associated with the planned boost in defense spending.

Hagiuda, Seko, and Nishimura openly objected to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s policy of raising taxes for defense spending, and many of the faction’s members argued against tax hikes at an LDP Policy Research Council meeting. However, Kishida did not reverse the policy.

Faction member Tomomi Inada, a former defense minister once considered to be one of Abe’s favorite proteges, has expressed understanding regarding the tax hikes, indicating disarray in the faction.

Regarding the selection of a new faction leader, Hagiuda said on Friday that he expects “to be able to indicate a direction by the time of the first anniversary [of Abe’s death],” while Seko said on Tuesday, “There is no need to rush to a conclusion.”

There is not a single member of the faction who the members would unanimously support in a party leadership contest, and that situation is unlikely to change in the near future.

However, some members are losing patience. “The largest [LDP] faction will lose strength if we don’t come together under a new leader soon,” a junior member said.