Late PM Shinzo Abe’s Faction, Largest in Japan’s Ruling LDP, Avoids Internal Leadership Strife, For Now

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Acting leader Ryu Shionoya addresses fellow members of the Liberal Democratic Party’s largest faction at a general meeting in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Thursday.

The political faction once led by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues to seek unity by sticking to a collective leadership system for the time being.

Since Abe’s fatal shooting in July 2022, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s largest faction has averted possible internal strife as it struggles to pinpoint a new leader.

Instead, the Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai on Thursday established an executive board as a decision-making body and an acting leader of the group will serve as the chief coordinator.

The top post of faction chairman remains vacant.

At the general meeting held at LDP headquarters in Tokyo, Ryu Shionoya, a former education minister and acting leader of the faction, presented the proposal to set up the executive board and appoint himself the faction’s coordinator. Five heavyweights in the faction had earlier given the green light to this proposal.

Consequently, the proposal was approved unanimously, with selection of the new board’s members entrusted to Shionoya. This new board is expected to include the five bigwigs and other faction members who have served as cabinet ministers.

The five heavyweights are Koichi Hagiuda, LDP Policy Research Council chairperson; Hirokazu Matsuno, chief cabinet secretary; Yasutoshi Nishimura, economy, trade and industry minister; Hiroshige Seko, LDP House of Councillors secretary general; and Tsuyoshi Takagi, LDP Diet Affairs Committee chairperson.

After the faction’s meeting, Shionoya said to reporters that the group can still be referred to as the Abe faction for now.

The decision to continue the collective leadership structure reflects efforts to quickly put an end to the turmoil in the faction in the aftermath of Abe’s death. What the 100-member faction ultimately settled on, however, is essentially a reconfiguration of the temporary leadership system it already had in place. Despite the unanimous approval, grumbles have been heard from within the faction.

“As the largest faction, we are heading toward a new stage without leaving a single person behind,” Shionoya said at the meeting.

Shionoya indicated that maintaining faction unity was his top priority with the new leadership system and that should be the main focus of its members.

One key issue now will be the makeup of the new executive board.

“I’ll appoint mainly people who have cabinet experience,” Shionoya said to reporters.

Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who still wields considerable clout in the faction, had previously shown support for a plan focusing on those five key members. Many observers believe Mori’s wishes were reflected in Thursday’s decision.

In July, Takagi had also proposed a collective leadership system centering on the five heavyweights as there was no widely agreed-on candidate for faction chairman.

The temporary leadership structure since Abe’s death centered on acting leaders Shionoya and Hakubun Shimomura, a former LDP Policy Research Council chairperson. The new system appears similar.

“It’s not very different in substance,” one faction member complained.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who leads his own faction, will reportedly reshuffle the Cabinet and appoint senior LDP officials next month. If the Abe faction fares poorly compared with other factions in the race to secure key posts, criticism of Shionoya’s new system could erupt.