Former Japan PM Suga Seen As Key Figure in Party Election, Heightening Interactions With Possible LDP Presidents

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga delivers a speech in Tokyo in September 2023.

Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of the Liberal Democratic Party is working to heighten his profile in the run-up to the party presidential election this autumn.

Suga, 75, is gradually shifting from a focus on promoting policies to being actively involved in the political situation, heightening his interactions with people seen as possible successors to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

A candidate supported by Suga would be a strong opponent to Kishida, who aims to keep his post as LDP president, so party members are closely watching Suga’s moves.

“At this difficult and important time, both at home and abroad, we mustn’t hand power [to the opposition],” Suga said at a party meeting in Chiba City on Saturday. With these words, he expressed strong concern over the possibility of the LDP becoming an opposition party following the allegations that certain party factions had violated the Political Funds Control Law.

“Please let us reexamine where we stand, so that we can keep working,” he said.

Now that the ordinary Diet session has ended, moves related to the presidential election have become increasingly active. Suga is seen as a key figure, as he keeps a certain distance from Kishida. A mid-ranking LDP member said some believe that a candidate supported by Suga could be the focal point for forces centered on non-mainstream members.

After stepping down as prime minister in October 2021, Suga has distanced himself from political maneuvering and focused on realizing policies, such as ride-share services. Recently, however, he has shown frustration with Kishida, prompted by his concerns over the adverse winds buffeting the party.

When negotiating changes to a bill to revise the Political Funds Control Law, Kishida made a series of concessions to Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, and Japan Innovation Party. This prompted Suga to say: “The LDP is the one that caused the problem, so it should present an appropriate proposal ahead of other parties.”

Suga has been actively meeting with people seen as potential successors to Kishida and key party members. In the evening on June 6, he dined with former Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, former party Policy Research Council Chairperson Koichi Hagiuda and former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda in Tokyo. All of them supported the Suga administration as Cabinet members.

Hagiuda and Takeda have influence with members of the Abe and Nikai factions, which have decided to disband. The Abe faction was formerly led by late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while the Nikai faction is led by former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai.

There are rumors that both Koizumi and Kato will run for party president, so those close to the prime minister were wary of the move, saying the meeting was held to promote cooperation in the presidential election.

On Wednesday evening, Suga also dined with party Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, who is thought to be waiting for his chance to run for party president.

Some party members believe former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba and Minister for Digital Transformation Taro Kono also could be options for Suga, depending on the situation.

Yet, Suga has reportedly told close aides that he has not decided which candidate to support. He is expected to weigh his decision carefully.

However, it is true that the political base of Suga, who does not belong to any faction, is what can be called a loose network. “It’s not clear how much he would be able to consolidate forces,” a young party member said.