With Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga taking a lead in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership race, major LDP factions backing him are already competing for party executive and Cabinet posts under a possible Suga administration.
LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai’s faction was the first to throw its support behind Suga. Nikai is now viewed as likely to keep his current powerful job if Suga is elected the successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is set to leave office for health reasons.
“It’s certain that Secretary-General Nikai will stay on,” said a former Cabinet minister who belongs to the Nikai faction.
But the party’s three largest factions, respectively led by former LDP Secretary-General Hiroyuki Hosoda, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and former LDP General Council Chairman Wataru Takeshita, are unhappy with the advantage held by the Nikai faction.
A day after Abe announced his resignation last Friday, Suga informed Nikai and LDP parliamentary affairs chief Hiroshi Moriyama first of his intention to run in the party election to pick Abe’s successor.
Suga, Nikai and Moriyama have strong trust in each other, and their close cooperation helped the administration to weather fierce arguments with the opposition camp during the last ordinary session of the Diet.
In August 2016, Nikai was appointed to replace Sadakazu Tanigaki as party secretary-general, after the later suffered severe injuries in a bicycle accident. He has since remained in the position, with its authority to approve the spending of party funds and make official endorsements of candidates in national elections.
Within the party, however, there is accumulated frustration with Nikai, including over the transfer of as much as ¥150 million in party funds to the campaign of House of Councilors member Anri Kawai, who, along with her husband, former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, has been indicted on election fraud charges.
One midlevel LDP member criticized Nikai for “doing many things that serve his own interests.”
A senior member of one of the three largest factions mentioned a “plot to push out the Nikai faction” through a joint declaration by the three factions of their support for Suga, adding, however, that the idea was difficult to realize in practical terms.
“Basically, we want to remove Nikai from the post of secretary-general and make him vice party president,” the senior faction member said.
Still, many in the party appear reluctantly to accept that Nikai will continue to serve as secretary-general for the time being, acknowledging that he is the one who has paved the way for Suga to run for the party’s presidency.
“It’s a done deal that Nikai will maintain the post of secretary-general. We should accept it,” a member of the Hosoda faction said.
“We could place him as parliamentary speaker after winning a House of Representatives election under his leadership as secretary-general,” a source in the Aso faction said.
LDP factions are also paying keen attention to the identity of the new chief Cabinet secretary, a key post, if Suga, the incumbent, takes the helm of government.
The chief Cabinet secretary makes frequent public appearances, including giving daily press briefings.
A source in the Nikai faction suggested that LDP Diet affairs chief Moriyama is the right person for the Cabinet job. “Moriyama could be a key figure in a Suga administration,” the source said.
The three largest factions apparently hope to avoid Moriyama assuming the chief Cabinet secretary post, as he is close to Nikai while belonging to another faction led by former party Secretary-General Nobuteru Ishihara.
“We will lose (the post of) secretary-general, so we must take chief Cabinet secretary without fail,” a heavyweight of the Hosoda faction said.
Another source in the Aso faction said education minister Koichi Hagiuda, who has previously served as deputy chief Cabinet secretary under Suga, would be suitable to be chief Cabinet secretary.
Other names suggested for the key Cabinet post include Defense Minister Taro Kono, from the Aso faction, and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama, who does not belong to any faction.