Prime Minister Kishida Faces Rough Road Ahead in Bid to Remain as Party Head; Maneuvering Begins for LDP Presidential Election in September

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, center, poses for a commemorative photo with LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, left, and LDP Vice President Taro Aso to mark the effective end of the regular Diet session on Friday in Tokyo.

With the current ordinary Diet session effectively ending on Friday, maneuvering for this fall’s presidential race of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is about to get into full swing.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is expected to try to keep his post as LDP president, has seen his power base weakened by his handling of the recent political funding scandal involving a number of the party’s factions, making his path to reelection increasingly rough.

“At this historic turning point, it is vital to take a broad perspective and, with courage and determination, come up with solutions to issues that have been kicked down the road,” Kishida declared at a press conference on Friday in response to a question about the qualities deemed essential for the next party president.

Kishida showed his determination to remain at the helm of the country when he added, “I have more than enough energy, it’s overflowing. I want to continue showing my enthusiasm and energy.”

Kishida’s term at the party’s helm expires at the end of September. His bringing up Friday of economic measures to be formulated in the fall, in addition to announcing steps to lessen the burden of rising electric and gas bills, was an attempt to boost approval ratings that have been floundering in the 20% range, while keeping an eye of the LDP election.

To scrape together votes from party members and fraternity members, which carry as much weight as those of Diet members, Kishida is considering making a series of trips to provincial areas in the days ahead.

Shaky power base

Aside from reversing the approval ratings of his Cabinet, one big issue facing Kishida is to restore his base of support within the party.

His relations with LDP Vice President Taro Aso and Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, both key figures in his administration; ever since he took office in October 2021, have been fraying fast, a result of major concessions Kishida made in negotiations between the ruling and opposition parties over revision of the Political Funds Control Law.

Kishida met with LDP members of the House of Representatives on Friday and appealed for their understanding of his actions. “I made the decision as the party president to protect the LDP,” he said.

Kishida went to the meeting after hearing a negative remark by a Motegi faction lawmaker after he skipped a meeting the previous day. In addition, the prime minister made the time to also show his face at a meeting of the LDP’s House of Councillors members.

Kishida has a strong sense of crisis as a “dump Kishida” movement has begun to emerge within the party, with an Aso faction member pointedly referring to Kishida’s responsibility for the major concessions in the law revision.

In the upcoming presidential race, it is difficult to foresee how the party’s lawmakers will vote, given the impact of many factions being dissolved in the make of the scandal.

The Aso faction, which remained intact and boasts a solid group of 55 members, is a force that Kishida wants to secure by all means. Meanwhile, Motegi has eyes on the presidency himself and has been meeting with young and mid-ranking lawmakers.

Aso has reportedly advised Kishida that, if he is to seek reelection, he needs to repair relations with Motegi and draw him and his allies over to Kishida’s side.

‘Face’ of the election

The presidential race will be held about one year before the lower house members’ terms end in October next year, giving it the added meaning of choosing the “face” of the party for the next lower house election.

There is a deep-rooted belief within the Abe faction, which saw many of its members disciplined in the political funds scandal, and non-mainstream groups like that of former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that the party cannot win the lower house election under Kishida’s leadership. Moves to create a “post-Kishida” party are likely to intensify.

Inside the party, the main names being bandied about as potential presidential candidates are former Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, who has strong name recognition, former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, Minister for Digital Transformation Taro Kono and Sanae Takaichi, minister in charge of economic security.

Others who could be expected to make a run are Katsunobu Kato, the chief cabinet secretary under Suga, and Takayuki Kobayashi, a former Minister of State for Economic Security who has been elected four times and is regarded as a rising star.

With the possibility for a glut of candidates, some believe that even with Kishida in the race, none of them will be able to garner the required majority of votes on the first ballot, sending the election to a run-off.