Toshihiro Nikai will become the longest-serving secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday, overtaking the record of 1,497 days in office set by his political mentor, former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka.
Nikai may rewrite the record by a wide margin as he is seeking to stay in the position under the next LDP president after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe steps down.
Nikai was appointed to the role in August 2016, after former Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki suffered severe injuries in a bicycle accident.
He had briefly left the party in 1993 and returned 10 years later, but he is revered in the party for his political shrewdness.
“His insights on politics is outstanding,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Nikai played a central role in extending the term limit for the LDP president to three three-year terms, for a total of nine years, in March 2017, supporting Abe’s long reign. He thus guided the party to victory in the 2017 election for the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet, and the 2019 election for House of Councillors, the upper chamber.
Nikai was the first to back Suga in the race to succeed Abe, prompting three major party factions to follow suit. The factions are respectively led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, former Secretary-General Hiroyuki Hosoda and former LDP General Council Chairman Wataru Takeshita.
The day Nikai rewrites the record for the longest-serving LDP secretary-general happens to be the candidacy filing date for the Sept. 14 party leadership election.
Nikai is also subject to push-back by some party members, especially due to his bare-knuckled approach to expanding his own faction and the party’s decision to provide ¥150 million in campaign funds to Anri Kawai in the 2019 Upper House election. Kawai, who won the election, was later arrested over vote-buying allegations, along with her husband, former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai.
“He (Nikai) is using the party for his own ends,” one middle-ranking member of the faction led by Fumio Kishida, chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, said. Kishida is also running to succeed Abe.
Political jockeying between Nikai and the three major party factions has come to light as the prospect of a Suga-led government became more likely, an indication that Nikai’s distinct way of doing politics is starting to create cracks in the party.
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