Hayashi Seen as Last-Resort Pick for Top Cabinet Post; Kishida Had Few Options Amid Factions’ Funds Scandal

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida leaves a press conference on Wednesday, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno seen in the background.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has decided to appoint Yoshimasa Hayashi to a key post in his Cabinet. Hayashi is a member of the Kishida faction, which the prime minister led until recently.

While Kishida intends to promote party reforms following the outbreak of a political fundraising scandal involving factions of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, it remains unknown how much cooperation he will be able to get from other party factions as the administration’s key posts are increasingly dominated by Kishida faction members.

Hoping for stability

“We’ll pursue what stance we should take to respond to various problems and make decisions so as not to cause concern [over new suspicions],” Kishida said with a stern expression at a press conference on Wednesday, expressing determination to make sure that the personnel reshuffle goes as well as possible on Thursday.

Hayashi, who will replace Hirokazu Matsuno as chief cabinet secretary, is a strong candidate to be the next prime minister after Kishida. For that reason, some sources say Kishida has a certain sense of caution against him.

Nevertheless, Kishida decided to pick him because of Hayashi’s wide experience in cabinet posts and his stable ability to give answers to Diet questions. Besides, there were few other options.

With the management of the Kishida administration falling into difficulties, many LDP members apparently wish to avoid “being in the same boat” with the prime minister, as one member put it.

The names of former defense minister Yasukazu Hamada and former health minister Katsunobu Kato were floated as candidates for the post of top government spokesperson. But in the end, Kishida decided to appoint a member from the faction he belonged to.

With the reshuffle, the Kishida faction will hold the chief cabinet secretary post plus two deputy chief cabinet secretary posts in the Prime Minister’s Office.

However, LDP Vice President Taro Aso has shown disapproval of giving an important post to Hayashi, who is known as a pro-China lawmaker. And Party Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, who is seen as another post-Kishida candidate for prime minister, sees Hayashi as his rival.

Therefore, Hayashi’s appointment may bring about delicate changes to the relationship among the Kishida, Aso and Motegi factions, which are the party’s mainstream factions.

Lack of momentum

At the press conference on Wednesday, Kishida sometimes spoke with a choked voice as he apparently became emotional when speaking about the political funds scandal.

Concerning party reforms, he said: “I strongly believe it’s my duty. I’ll sincerely listen to critical voices from the public.”

As for specific measures to reform the party, various ideas are being floated within the government and the LDP, such as abolishing party factions’ fundraising parties, having party executives and cabinet members leave their factions, disbanding factions, and comprehensively revising the Political Funds Control Law.

At the press conference, Kishida said these reform proposals could be among the ideas to be examined, but he stopped short of making any substantial statement toward realizing them.

“There is a limit to how much he could set forth [concrete proposals] while investigations are under way,” said one of Kishida’s close aides. However, it remains uncertain whether Kishida’s enthusiasm for party reforms was conveyed to the public.

Kishida also pledged that the entire party will take concerted actions to deal with the problem. But the prime minister has failed to gather momentum within the party for cooperation.

When he left his own faction as of Dec. 7, he expected other party executives, including Motegi, to keep step with him, but he met with a cool reception instead. As the Motegi faction has been relatively unscathed in the political funds scandal, some are remarking on a difference in the degree of commitment between the two.

Sense of caution within LDP

Some LDP members have been persistently taking a cautious stance toward revising the Political Funds Control Law. A mid-ranking member of the Abe faction voiced opposition to the idea of disbanding factions by Kishida.

Since the inauguration of his administration in October 2021, Kishida has been carrying out “faction-based politics,” focusing on the balance of party factions through personnel affairs.

“Although he abruptly called for party reforms, it’s unconvincing and he won’t be able to exert leadership,” said a senior LDP member.