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LDP Lawmakers Divided Over Future of Party Factions; Conflicting Views Aired at Lawmakers’ Meeting

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Liberal Democratic Party’s headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

The Liberal Democratic Party’s political reform headquarters started full-fledged discussions Tuesday on reform of the party’s faction system and its handling of political funds in the wake of a scandal over alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law involving the factions.

About 50 people spoke at the meeting, which was open to all LDP lawmakers, amid a growing sense of urgency within the party that reforms are inevitable.

The focus now will be on to what extent the party will be able to implement reforms when opinions are divided over specific measures for the changes.

“This is an extremely serious situation. We need to work together to face the situation with a strong sense of crisis,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is also LDP president, said at the beginning of the meeting at party headquarters in Tokyo. The remark indicated his intention that the party as a whole, not just senior party members, must push forward with reforms.

The meeting was open to all of the party’s lawmakers in consideration of opinions that it would be odd if the views of first-time Diet members, who have little political experience but are relatively close to the people’s sensibilities, were not reflected in discussions at the reform headquarters. The headquarters consists mainly of senior party members.

Kishida attended the meeting, which lasted about three hours, and listened to the opinions of the participants.

Opinions were clearly divided among the lawmakers over the future of LDP factions, which is a focal point of the reforms.

Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the chief advisor to the reform headquarters, advocates the dissolution of factions. Several LDP members with no faction affiliations also called for their dissolution at the meeting.

“We should dissolve the factions and eliminate the causes at the root of the problem. Efforts should begin with the dissolution of the Kishida faction as a way of showing that they are determined to undertake actions first,” House of Representatives member Akimasa Ishikawa said.

Lower house member Eiichiro Washio of the Nikai faction led by Toshihiro Nikai said, “Factions are important when developing human resources and consolidating organization.”

Some others said the factions should remain as policy groups, or reform should be pursued by prohibiting factions from holding political fundraising parties or exercising influence over personnel matters.

Several members of the Abe faction, which was once led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and is at the center of the scandal, argued for the dissolution of the group. “The Abe faction should be dissolved. I will remain in the faction until the end to complete the dissolution,” lower house member Hiroyuki Miyazawa said.

As for political funds reform, securing transparency and imposing penalties emerged as points of contention.

A proposal has been raised within the LDP to require that payments for political fundraising party tickets be made only via bank transfer to make factions’ political funds transparent. “It is necessary to make sure we can follow the movement of money,” lower house member Yasutaka Nakasone from the Nikai faction said.

Discussing penalties, one meeting participant mentioned the introduction of a guilt by association system, in which lawmakers would be held accountable if their treasurers violate the law, by amending the law.

House of Councillors member Masamune Wada, who has no faction affiliation, suggested that even without legal reform, the LDP could effectively prevent illegal activities by expelling or banning the candidacies of those who violate the law.