New LDP Policy Chief Kisaburo Tokai Eager For Political Reform; Political, Management Skills to be Tested Amid Discussions

The Yomiuri Shimbun
LDP Policy Research Council Chairperson Kisaburo Tokai is seen at party headquarters.

In light of the suspected violations of the Political Funds Control Law by the Liberal Democratic Party’s Abe faction and other factions, the LDP is expected to start full-fledged discussions in January to review the faction-based party management and revise the law.

Attention has therefore been focused on Kisaburo Tokai, who has experience in political reform and was recently appointed chairperson of the LDP Policy Research Council, as to how he will steer the discussions.

“Why don’t we create a [new] outline for political reform in the Reiwa era?” Tokai said in front of such key LDP figures as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is also the president of the party, Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi and Vice President Taro Aso at a Dec. 25 meeting held at party headquarters.

The original LDP outline for political reform, which Tokai referred to at the meeting, was formulated in 1989 in the wake of the Recruit scandal. It stipulated such rules as cabinet ministers, the party’s secretary general and the chairpersons of the General Council and the Policy Research Council should leave their intraparty factions, and that political funds must be thoroughly disclosed.

However, the outline is said to have since become a mere formality.

Tokai had previously demonstrated his enthusiasm for political reform. At a Dec. 22 news conference after he took up his current LDP post, he said, “We should hold renewed discussions to create a new outline.”

He likely made his proposal at the Dec 25 meeting, which was attended by executive leaders of the party, in a bid to attain those leaders’ support. A number of faction chiefs, however, responded coolly to the proposal by Tokai, who is not affiliated with any faction.

“He spoke passionately, but the situation is different from the time of the Recruit scandal,” one said. Another said, “There’s no point in discussing abstract matters like the ones that would go in an outline.”

One reason Tokai is concerned about political reform is that he went through the period in which there were active discussions about the topic. The Recruit scandal broke a few years after he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1986, and Tokai directly experienced the heightened distrust of the political world.

In 1988, several months after the Recruit scandal came to light, Tokai joined a study group formed by then newly elected LDP lawmakers, including the late Masayoshi Takemura who served chief cabinet secretary from 1993-1994. He began to advocated curbing political corruption but become frustrated by the slow progress on political reform. Tokai later joined New Party Sakigake, a new party formed based on the study group.

He has reportedly told associates that there are not many lawmakers who know about that time, indicating his desire to be involved in discussions on political reform as a veteran lawmaker.

Former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, who also joined the study group, has expressed his expectations regarding Tokai. “He has a passion to make the LDP close to people,” Ishiba said on a TV program. “He can inspire various debates among party executives.”

However, there are concerns about Tokai within the LDP.

“He’s a principles-first kind of guy and would become an outsider-like element among party executives,” a former cabinet minister said. Tokai’s political instincts and coordination skills will likely be tested during discussions on political reform.