Prime minister’s own faction criticized for not supporting him

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, center, addresses a meeting of his faction at its office in January last year.

The Liberal Democratic Party faction led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is under critical scrutiny from within the party.

During the recent extraordinary Diet session, two Cabinet ministers from the faction resigned in quick succession, and the faction was criticized for not acting to support the prime minister.

Kishida, who also is the party’s president, has headed the faction even after becoming the prime minister, but its ranks have shrunk by three members in that time.

 Kishida attended a meeting of his faction on the evening of Dec. 23 at a hotel in Tokyo, where he told the about 30 participating members, “I’d like to think with you all about responsibilities that the Kochikai group must fulfill and move our policies forward.”

Citing issues such as strengthening defense capabilities and policies regarding children, Kishida asked his faction members for their support.

Former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera of the Kishida faction has served as a coordinator for the ruling party in revising three defense-related documents, including the National Security Strategy, even while opposition to plans for tax hikes to fund an increase in defense spending persists within the Abe faction, the party’s largest group.

Another Kishida faction member, Yoichi Miyazawa, is the chairperson of the LDP’s Research Commission on the Tax System. He compiled the ruling camp’s tax reform outline for fiscal 2023, which specifies corporate and other taxes to be increased.

At the meeting, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, who presided over the meeting as the faction’s No. 2 leader, said, “When the prime minister is taking heat, let’s take the heat with him.”

However, the faction often dragged the prime minister down last year, according to a younger faction member.

In June, House of Representatives lawmaker Takeru Yoshikawa left the LDP after he was reported by a magazine to have been drinking with an 18-year-old woman. In November, then Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi resigned after making flippant comments about the death penalty, and then Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Minoru Terada resigned over allegations regarding political funds.

Since Kishida took office as prime minister in October 2021, the Abe faction increased its members from 96 to 97 and the faction led by LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi increased its members from 51 to 54. However, the Kishida faction saw its number of members fall from 46 to 43, leaving it as only the fifth largest faction within the LDP.

In the July 2022 House of Councillors election, Kishida scrambled to support rookie candidates, but only one member joined his faction after the election. The faction has not been able to make up for the members it has lost through retirement or election defeats after the upper and lower house elections.

Since November of last year, the faction’s younger members began policy study sessions in an effort to “restore the strength of the Kochikai.” Similar sessions, held even before Kishida became prime minister, compiled proposals on foreign, security and economic policies. The faction believes that these activities helped Kishida to become prime minister.

 It is customary in the LDP for a prime minister to leave or keep some distance from his faction after taking the helm of government, but Kishida has remained actively involved in his faction.

“We must be careful not to make the public feel that he is managing the government in favor of his own faction,” a veteran faction member said.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida greets members of his faction after arriving at the venue of its study session in September.