Fumio Kishida Struggles to Solidify Factional Base as Membership Stagnates, LDP Appointments Irk

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, center, makes a toast at a Kishida faction party in May

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is also Liberal Democratic Party president, is struggling to solidify his own faction within the party.

He wants former Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi — who left a Cabinet post following Wednesday’s reshuffle — to coordinate the faction, also known as the Kochikai group. But Kishida is grappling with many issues, including strong dissatisfaction within the group about Cabinet and party leadership appointments, and a failure to grow beyond the LDP’s fourth-largest faction as planned.

At the faction’s study session Thursday in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, Kishida encouraged its members. “I will face the current era in the spirit of a leading Kochikai,” he said

Kishida has stayed faction leader even after forming his cabinet in 2021. Given the weakness of Kochikai’s base, he has taken the lead himself in boosting cooperation with other factions. Without prominent members to bind together mid-level and younger members, Kishida has had to deeply involve himself in the faction’s management, with members frequenting the Prime Minister’s Office to consult on factional matters. Kishida has grumbled that he wants to “leave the faction to people I can trust.”

Kishida’s plan to have Hayashi manage the faction is believed to be aimed at further preparing Hayashi as his future successor. Even so, many within the faction view the relationship between Kishida and Hayashi as delicate. This is because Hayashi is on good terms with former LDP Secretary General and former Kochikai leader Makoto Koga, whom Kishida has distanced himself from.

Kishida intends to serve as the faction leader for now and improve management in a way that allows him to keep his grip on the grouping.

Another problem for Kishida is tension over Cabinet and LDP appointments. Since the start of the Kishida administration, the prime minister has not appointed faction members to any of the four main party leadership positions, and Kochikai “has not been able to make its presence felt within the party,” a former Cabinet member was quoted as saying.

In Wednesday’s reshuffle, only two Kochikai members got Cabinet posts. Under the circumstances, Kishida was eager to soothe tempers in the faction by appointing House of Representative member Hirotaka Ishihara — who was considered to be on a wait-list for Cabinet positions — as the prime minister’s special advisor, and former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yasushi Kaneko as chairman of Party Organization and Campaign Headquarters.

Expanding factional strength has also proved tricky. Former Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura joined Kochikai on Thursday, but that only brought the group to 46 members, the same as at the start of the administration. The faction has expanded and shrunk over time, leaving it still the party’s fourth largest. Tamura’s joining was said to have been finessed by Kishida himself, and one faction member said, “If we ask the prime minister for everything, we will only get so far.”