• Politics & Government

Prime Minister Kishida’s dissolution plan of his faction shakes up Liberal Democratic Party

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida walks to a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has shocked the Liberal Democratic Party with a plan to dissolve his own faction, the oldest in the LDP – a painful decision at a time when Kishida already faces mounting difficulties in running his administration.

It appears Kishida has been forced to take this drastic step to show his resolve in dealing with a spate of Political Funds Control Law violations by several LDP factions.

On Thursday afternoon, Kishida called senior officials of the faction, also known as Kochikai, to the Prime Minister’s Office to broach his plan: “We need to go on the front foot, so why don’t we dissolve [the faction]?” These officials included Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi, who chairs the faction; Takumi Nemoto, the faction’s secretary general; Yoichi Miyazawa, chair of the LDP’s Research Commission on the Tax System; and former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera. All expressed support for the prime minister’s plan and agreed to follow his wishes.

Kishida’s faction was found to have failed to report some income in political fund reports over the years. However, it had been widely accepted as the result of “clerical errors” and less malicious than the actions of the Abe and other factions, which are suspected of pooling vast off-the-books funds.

However, the group’s overoptimistic view on such errors came into sharp relief, as the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office was building a case against the Kishida faction.

The prime minister decided on the plan due to a strong sense of crisis over the unexpected situation which shook his group. “If we do a half-baked job on addressing this issue, it could spell the end not only for Kochikai, but for the entire LDP,” Kishida told his close aides.

A political reform headquarters established within the LDP in the wake of the fundraising scandal is due to reach the final stage of discussions next week. This looming deadline also nudged Kishida to push ahead with his plan.

The LDP’s factions have been criticized in the past as placing excessive emphasis on raising funds and the allocation of important personnel posts. Because of this, moves were already being made to prohibit, among other things, faction-organized political fundraising parties and faction involvement in the appointment of cabinet ministers and other key personnel.

“Simply reviewing the faction’s performance wasn’t enough,” a Cabinet minister and Kishida faction member said. “It seems he felt the need to take a rather bold step.”

Affinity for faction

Kochikai was founded by former Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda. Both Ikeda and Kishida hail from a constituency in Hiroshima Prefecture, and Kishida’s grandfather was one of the faction’s original members. Kishida was named faction leader in 2012 and has made no secret of his affection for the group, even saying, “I’ve been Kochikai since I was born.”

It has been custom within the LDP for members to leave their faction when they are appointed prime minister. However, Kishida remained faction leader even after being elected LDP president in September 2021. This triggered some criticism from within the party: “He’s letting faction politics drag on and on,” former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said. Kishida eventually left Kochikai in December 2023 as suspicions about political fundraising parties grew, but his post of leader was not filled and remains vacant.

Pushback within party

Kishida appears to expect that taking the decision to dissolve his faction will force other factions to follow suit.

A senior official of the Abe faction, the LDP’s largest, revealed to an affiliated lawmaker, “We also had been considering dissolution, but he beat us to the punch.”

However, Kishida’s maneuver has not gone down well with everybody. “His announcement was a bolt from the blue. That was incredibly selfish of him,” one faction chief told The Yomiuri Shimbun.

LDP Vice President Taro Aso, who heads the LDP’s second-largest faction, and Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, boss of the third largest, have applauded factions for their roles in educating young lawmakers and sharing information.

Since the 1960s, the LDP has trumpeted the idea of dissolving factions whenever a political corruption scandal tars the party. However, the groups bounced back each time, such as by rebranding themselves as “policy groups.”

“It’s unclear whether similar moves will gain momentum this time,” an executive member of the LDP said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun