Abe may leave faction before LDP leadership race

by Hiroko Nakata

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe is thinking of leaving his faction before the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election in September to garner broader support, sources close to Abe said Wednesday.

Departing from traditional factional politics will likely boost his public image and encourage supporters in other factions to vote for him, increasing the as-yet undeclared candidate’s chances of taking the LDP helm, and thus the prime ministership.

Abe, who belongs to the largest faction, which is led by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, is considered the front-runner in the race to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The election is Sept. 20.

When asked Wednesday whether he plans to leave ahead of the election, Abe only said he is not thinking about such a move “at this stage.” He also repeated that he is not yet a candidate, although he has all but officially declared it.

Meanwhile, a source close to Abe said it is too early to discuss the issue and hinted the time was not yet ripe for such an announcement.

Abe played down the importance of the LDP’s conventional factions, which once played a big role in deciding the next president and in the Cabinet shakeups that usually follow the selection of a new prime minister.

In past presidential elections, each faction would usually unite around one particular candidate for prime minister. That may not happen this time around, he said.

“Each faction will not unite behind a certain candidate, as in the past,” Abe said, adding that their role has shifted to policymaking.

Abe is expected to announce his departure from the faction when he declares his candidacy for the election in late August.

The LDP leader is elected by lawmakers and party members.

If Abe leaves his faction, he will be following in the footsteps of Koizumi, who left the Mori faction on the day candidacies were filed for the April 2001 LDP election, which he won. Koizumi has told Mori he will not return to his faction even after he steps down as party leader and prime minister in September.

Decision-making in the LDP has traditionally been led by factions, especially when it came to selecting the leadership and Cabinet members. Koizumi broke the trend when he took office by handpicking his Cabinet.

Information from Kyodo added