While a number of festivals have had to be postponed, cancelled, or scaled back due to the new coronavirus, an otherworldly battle is heating up. This is the election for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has produced numerous dramas. Japan’s premier power struggle, which is covered by the media every day, will continue to be a “festival” until September 29, when a new president will be elected. Behind the feverish excitement, the kingmakers’ deep recklessness is stranger than fiction.
3A or 2FS? Public opinion polls conducted by the news media show a similar trend. Vaccine Minister Taro Kono, who has a strong voice and is popular with the public, is leading the race, followed by former policy chief Fumio Kishida, who is in second place. In second place is former Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, who is very stable, followed by former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi, who represents the conservative faction, and acting Secretary General Seiko Noda, a liberal, in fourth place.
Even though it is a contest between the same political parties, the variety of content, including ideological beliefs and policies, makes it more interesting than the party leadership debates in national elections.
It has become a consensus view among the media that Kono will not win a majority of the total votes cast in the first round of voting, including party members and friends, and will be defeated in the runoff by the “second- and third-place coalition.
While it is healthy for the public to be interested in the personality and policies of the new prime minister, it is also important to pay attention to the “behind-the-scenes” activities of the kingmaker who plays the arithmetic board.
Abe’s true aim in announcing his support for Takaichi
Prime Minister Kan (S), who decided not to run for prime minister in order to preserve his political influence, has endorsed Kono, who is close to him. Toshihiro Nikai, the secretary general of 2F, who is in step with the current prime minister, is also in agreement with the “anti-Kishida” stance. With the addition of Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi and former Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, both of whom are very popular among the Japanese people, Kono will be in the lead in the Diet members’ vote. Mr. Kishida, on the other hand, has strong support from the Kishida faction as well as veterans such as former Economic Revitalization Minister Akira Amari (A) of the Aso faction led by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso (A).
In order to eliminate the influence of Nikai, who has served as secretary general for more than five years, the longest stint in the party’s history, Kishida is targeting the “anti-Nikaido” vote by proposing a party reform plan that would limit the term of office for party officials to one year per term and up to three consecutive terms.
Normally, a presidential election between these two candidates would have been uninteresting. However, the composition of the race changed dramatically when former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (A) expressed his full support for Mr. Koichi, who was initially seen as a “bubble candidate. Against the backdrop of Abe’s influence in the Hosoda faction, the largest political faction in Japan, and the presence of Abe, who has called on other conservative politicians to join the race, Takaichi has been gaining votes from the Diet and is in hot pursuit.
However, Aso, who is a close ally of Takaichi, has distanced himself from the hawkish side of Takaichi by agreeing with him on the “anti-Fusae” stance but uniting his faction to “basically support” Kono or Kishida.
This is where a major mystery remains. What was the reason for Mr. Abe’s decision to abandon the joint front with his ally Mr. Aso in favor of Mr. Takaichi?
Abe’s biggest concern
Abe is now worried about the intensification of the battle between conservatives and liberals within the LDP, as he says, “Kono is dangerous…” due to his support for the female emperor, which conservatives dislike, and his advocacy for a nuclear-free Japan.
Abe’s mind is now replaying memories of 2007. After the fall of the first conservative Abe administration, the liberal forces emerged in the next administration of Yasuo Fukuda. “Mr. Abe, who regrets that the conservatives were fragile and has seen his colleagues suffer in the aftermath, fears that Mr. Kono’s overwhelming victory will lead to a return to a more liberal tone. The “3A” plan to attract Kishida, who is considered a dove, is also aimed at dividing the liberal faction.
The bottom line is that Abe has already lost. Even if either Kono or Kishida is elected president, if Koichi, representing the conservative faction, comes in third in the first round of voting, the conservative faction will be able to use its numbers as a backdrop to demonstrate its presence in the party management. If Takaichi finishes second behind Kono, he will be able to call on Kishida’s side to help him in the runoff to create a “Takaichi presidency” and maintain the “Abe rule” that has been in place since 2012. Abe’s strategy is not to lose.
The “stonewalling” disease
The plunge in the Kan cabinet’s approval rating in the run-up to the general election has caused a sense of frustration among Diet members who do not want to lose their parliamentary badges, but now that the party’s approval rating has recovered in the wake of the presidential election, the fear of “cold turkey” is on the minds of LDP members. (It is a mystery whether Mr. Abe thought that the foreshadowing of his thorough treatment of Mr. Ishiba would lead to this point.
If we were to summarize the current presidential election in terms of the “cold rice theory” rather than the “rice theory” that now dominates the LDP, we would have the following composition: 1) “If Kono wins, Abe will be cold rice,” 2) “If Kishida wins, Nikai will be cold rice,” and 3) “If Koichi wins, Aso and Nikai will be cold rice. (3) “If Takaichi wins, Aso and Nikai get cold rice. As long as Kono does not have the kind of fever that causes him to win in the first round of voting, Abe’s influence will be maintained and expanded.
So what will Nikai, who is said to have the best political perspective in the world, do next?
“I guess I’ll just have to sit tight for now…”
Nikai, who is said to have the best view of the political situation in Japan, will probably have to sit tight for now…” Nikai’s gaze is no different from Abe’s in that it is focused on “after the presidential election. However, while Mr. Abe emphasizes the balance of power between conservatives and liberals, Mr. Nikai focuses on “power” itself. Whoever the new president is, he will probably try to expand his power. If he moves to rally the liberal faction, including by joining forces with Prime Minister Kan’s group, which is being re-evaluated, there is no possibility that he will become the “largest faction” after the next lower house election.
The political situation in Japan will only become more intense in the wake of the Corona disaster.
Text： Kenichi Ogura
Director, Ithmose Institute