Rift Opens in Japan’s LDP Leadership after Kishida Makes Compromise; 2 Key Allies Show Dissatisfactions Toward Prime Minister

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, shakes hands with Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi after a bill to revise the Political Funds Control Law passes the lower house on Thursday afternoon.

A rift was left between Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, also the Liberal Democratic Party’s president, and the party’s Vice President Taro Aso and Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi after a bill to revise the Political Funds Control Law cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday.

In negotiations to amend the bill, Kishida fully accepted a demand from LDP coalition partner Komeito while Aso and Motegi were wary of making a major compromise. The LDP leadership has become dysfunctional and Kishida’s administration is on weaker footing than ever.

¥50,000 threshold

“We discussed the issue with Komeito carefully and then compiled the bill. Some people may say the bill is ineffective, but they’re completely off the mark,” Kishida proudly told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office after the bill passed the lower house.

However, Kishida accepted a demand by Komeito to lower the threshold at which information will be disclosed on those who purchase tickets to political fundraising parties. That threshold will drop to ¥50,000 in ticket purchases from the current ¥200,000. This caused an erosion of trust with Aso and Motegi, who are both pillars o the Kishida administration.

“Is there anything you would like to say?” Kishida asked at a three-way meeting with Aso and Motegi held before an LDP executive meeting in the Diet Building on Monday. However, they responded with silence, an expression of their strong dissatisfaction with Kishida for compromising too much with Komeito.

20 minutes of protesting

“What are you talking about? Working-level officials have already agreed with Komeito. It’s not normal for higher-ups to change that agreement,” Aso told Kishida over the phone.

In the evening of May 30, Aso heard that Kishida and Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi would hold a meeting and protested with Kishida for about 20 minutes by phone. Aso’s anger came from the fact that Kishida was ignoring the concerns he and Motegi had put forward on the previous night when the three met at a Japanese restaurant in Tokyo.

At the May 29 meeting, Aso argued that young lawmakers would have difficulty raising funds unless the disclosure threshold was kept at ¥100,000, as specified in an LDP draft bill. “Considering Komeito’s need to maintain the coalition, it would not be able to vote against the bill,” Motegi added. “Even if they abstain from a vote, we can pass the bill by getting support from Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party).” Kishida showed understanding for this view.

Mind changes overnight

Since the LDP does not hold a majority in the House of Councillors, Kishida was concerned that, if he did not compromise, Komeito might be more demanding when the bill moved to the upper house.

This led Kishida to change his mind. “If we fail to pass the bill, the party will come to an end,” Kishida told Aso over the phone.

The discord between Kishida and the two executives could last some time. Aso reportedly told his aides about his irritation.

For Kishida, the deterioration of his relationship with Aso is serious. Aso considers himself Kishida’s guardian and has brought closer together the prime minister and Motegi, a potential successor to Kishida. While many factions have decided to disband in the wake of the political funds scandal, Aso has maintained his 55-member faction and will have significant influence on the next LDP presidential election.

Some LDP members believe that Aso would not abandon Kishida because he appreciates Kishida’s ability to handle domestic and diplomatic affairs. However, some members of the Aso faction are dissatisfied with Kishida for repeatedly betraying the faction, and for the sudden announcement that the Kishida faction would be dissolved. If criticism against Kishida mounts within the Aso faction, Aso might put clear distance between himself and Kishida.