LDP boss urges unity, break with factionalism

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

After romping back to power following three years in the opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party chief called for unity and a break with tradition Wednesday in a bid to consolidate power ahead of the Upper House election in July.

At a meeting of all LDP Diet members — the party’s first since its landslide victory on Dec. 16 — LDP chief Shinzo Abe told his newly emboldened party not to bask in tradition or revert to its old political ways, because the public hasn’t fully endorsed its return yet.

“The real showdown is the Upper House election,” said Abe, who was elected prime minister in an extra Diet session the same day. “The LDP can really end the confusion caused by the Democratic Party of Japan, but only after the party wins that election.”

While the LDP does not hold a majority in the House of Councilors, its supermajority in the Lower House with ally New Komeito will allow it to override many Upper House decisions.

Still, a divided Diet could delay the passage of key legislation — something the LDP is all too familiar with after thwarting former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan by boycotting Diet deliberations in the Upper House and blocking government-sponsored legislation from being enacted — even in the midst of the nation’s worst postwar calamity.

One of the challenges the LDP faces in departing from its old ways is how to educate its 119 rookie members without relying on the much-maligned “habatsu,” or factions. First-timers account for about 40 percent of the party’s Lower House members.

“I am very excited that I can finally work for the Japanese people,” said Soichiro Imaeda, 28, the party’s youngest member. “As an inexperienced lawmaker, I can only do my best.”

At a separate meeting for the rookies Wednesday, Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba told them to submit their new year plans, including thank-you visits to constituents.

“You might be surprised, but we might call your supporters to check if you followed your plans,” said Ishiba, adding that followups are important for creating an image of honesty and sincerity.

Under the LDP’s tradition of factional politics, rookie lawmakers are recruited by various factions that have different agendas. It is within such tribes that greenhorns receive their real-life political education and the factions consolidate power.

Abe is aiming to reform the LDP by concentrating all of the decision-making power in the leadership rather than in the factions, which are usually the source of the internal bickering and power plays that damage the party and anger the public.

Despite Abe’s campaigning, the factions are reportedly back to their old tricks and actively recruiting the newcomers.