Scandal Reveals Strain of Japanese Ruling Party’s Single-Dominant-Faction Landscape

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Former prime minister Shinzo Abe, fifth from right, among others give a toast at a party of the Abe faction in 2022.

Since 2000, four prime ministers have emerged from the Liberal Democratic Party’s Abe faction (Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai): Yoshiro Mori, Junichiro Koizumi, Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda. Their total terms in office comprised 16 years and gave rise to the term “Seiwa-kai rule.”

The faction has steadily been increasing its membership, and in April reached the landmark figure of 100 members. However, the faction also has been associated with a series of scandals.

When Abe was prime minister, a summary indictment was filed in December 2020 against his former state-funded secretary on charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law by failing to list about ¥30 million in fees and other payments in political funds reports related to cherry blossom-viewing parties.

In September last year, the faction faced criticism after a number of its members — including leadership figures — were found to have ties with the Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

The latest scandal to rock the Abe faction highlights the problems associated with a single-dominant-faction landscape.

Addressing allegations lodged against the Abe faction of receiving off-the-books kickbacks, Chuo University Prof. Koji Nakakita said: “The faction has many members, and it may have been using old accounting methods while other factions have tightened their procedures. It’s possible that it didn’t have a chance to review its system.”

The Abe faction comprises two lines: the Abe line, which sprang from Abe’s father Shintaro Abe, the faction’s second leader; and the Fukuda line, which is close to former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda. The faction may split along these lines as the kickbacks investigation progresses.

In the past, Keiseikai, which was founded by former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, and later became Heisei Kenkyukai — the present-day Motegi faction — was the dominant LDP faction, but was weakened by factional splits involving scandals related to Recruit Co. and the Japan Dental Federation.

A senior LDP member said the Abe faction might see a similar pattern emerge.