Shigeru Ishiba, minister for regional revitalization, is set to form his own faction with an eye on challenging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party when the party next elects a leader, sources close to Ishiba said Wednesday.
The move comes just a day after Abe was reappointed unopposed as the LDP chief for another three-year term.
It appears also to be aimed at influencing the Cabinet reshuffle and changes in the LDP executive lineup, which could take place as early as next month.
Over 20 LDP lawmakers close to Ishiba are expected to join the faction, the sources said. They are among a loose liaison group of some 40 Diet members.
By turning into a faction, the group can enjoy the benefits of a political group such as being able to hold fundraising events. It would also strengthen solidarity among its members and allow them to act as one when voting in the LDP leadership race.
Ishiba ran in the LDP presidential election in 2012 and secured a majority of votes cast by LDP rank-and-file members in the initial round, but lost to Abe in a runoff in which only LDP legislators voted.
Ishiba, who was subsequently appointed LDP secretary-general, launched the liaison group in January 2013, composed of lawmakers who supported him in the election.
While serving as LDP secretary-general, Ishiba called for a break from traditional factional approaches in allotting key posts and nurturing young lawmakers.
But more recently, he has said he was only opposed to the adverse effects factions can have and was not against factions themselves.
“There is no problem in a group of lawmakers getting together to push for their leader to become prime minister,” he said.
Whoever replaces Abe as LDP chief is likely to take over as prime minister if the party remains in power.
On Wednesday, a senior LDP lawmaker close to Ishiba said he would not join the new faction even though he would support Ishiba heading the government.
“I feel like I’d like to see a Prime Minister Ishiba,” Hachiro Okonogi, the party’s acting Diet affairs chief, told a news conference. But he added, “I would not join. I have the impression that it is not suitable for Mr. Ishiba to have a faction.”