With LDP swollen, will faction rivalries return?

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

With the Liberal Democratic Party suddenly doubling its numbers in the Lower House thanks to its landslide win, concerns have already emerged that Shinzo Abe won’t be able to control this throng after he becomes prime minister next week.

LDP insiders appear to be worried that the party’s factions, once the true power players in politics, may regain their influence as many of the old guard who were defeated in 2009 won back their Diet seats Sunday.

“The LDP has one old bad habit, although it’s not as terrible as that of the Democratic Party of Japan,” LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura told reporters Wednesday. “Some people often try to drag down the party president they have elected.

“My mission is to create a new culture to maintain support for the party president and prime minister we elect,” Komura said, adding this basic concept should not have to be spelled out.

Abe was elected LDP president in September without solid support from the intraparty factions. He has pledged to create a new LDP by concentrating all of the decision-making power in the party’s leadership, rather than the factions.

The factions, which have waged fierce power struggles for decades, have been widely regarded as a symbol of LDP politics and are detested by many voters.

Deputy LDP Secretary General Yoshihide Suga, one of Abe’s closest aides, said Wednesday his boss will not accept any requests from factions when appointing party executives and Cabinet members.

“If factions start recruiting (newly elected lawmakers), we will immediately lose the trust of the people,” Suga said in a speech in Tokyo. Abe “will never accept any recommendations from factions, and this is 100 percent certain.”

Abe is considering appointing five women to his Cabinet, including non-Diet members, sources said.

Among the names being floating are Yuko Obuchi, a former state minister for population and gender equality; Sanae Takaichi, a former state minister dealing with issues involving Okinawa and the Russia-held islands off Hokkaido; and former Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi.

The LDP pledged in its campaign platform to increase the ratio of female executives to 30 percent or more by 2020.

The power of the LDP factions was considerably weakened by a 1994 revision in the Political Funds Control Law. Since the revision, faction leaders have had an increasingly hard time raising the vast sums with which they keep their members loyal.

But the factions still have influence because the party leadership has maintained the long-held tradition of accepting their recommendations in appointing key party and Cabinet posts.

Abe and LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba have tried to strengthen their power base within the party by reducing the ability of the factions to return to the old-style LDP and remind voters of why they turned on the party.

But the return of dozens of old-guard LDP members and the election of more than 100 rookies Sunday may give the factions a chance to regain some of their clout.

“The media may be talking about (possible internal strife), but we remained united throughout the election campaign,” a senior LDP member said.

Information from Kyodo added