The ruling Liberal Democratic Party officially rolled out its new executive lineup Tuesday, leaving powerful Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and Diet affairs chief Hiroshi Moriyama in their current positions while replacing those in other prominent roles with veteran lawmakers from each party faction that had endorsed Yoshihide Suga in the leadership contest.
Suga tapped election strategy committee chair Hakubun Shimomura, from the Hiroyuki Hosoda faction, to be the head of the policy council — ousting Fumio Kishida, who previously held the role and ran against Suga in the LDP presidential race.
Former Internal Affairs Minister Tsutomu Sato of the Taro Aso faction now presides over the general council, while Taimei Yamaguchi, the chairman of the party organization and campaign headquarters who belongs to the Wataru Takeshita group, has been put in charge of the election strategy committee.
Former Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda, who has no faction affiliation, has been made executive acting secretary-general.
In his selection of party officials, Suga has attempted to strike a delicate balance between preserving the status quo — by keeping heavyweights appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and shaking up personnel to bring in appointees who are particularly close to him and had pressed him to run.
Moriyama, a member of Nobuteru Ishihara’s group, and Nikai, who leads his own faction, both hold records as the longest-serving in their respective positions. Suga praised Moriyama on Monday as “an excellent Diet affairs chief who is well experienced in politics” and characterized Nikai, along with deputy prime minister Taro Aso, as “cornerstones” of the party and the Cabinet, respectively, and “critical in the handling of the administration.”
“Having been entrusted with the party as secretary-general, I’d like to support the new (LDP) president and make sure party management proceeds harmoniously,” Nikai said in a news conference at the party headquarters Tuesday afternoon, adding that responding to the novel coronavirus was the highest priority.
Wednesday’s Cabinet minister roster is now becoming the focus of attention for many in Nagatcho, the nation’s political epicenter, where the ruling party’s factions continue to exert their influence behind the scenes.
Suga does not belong to a faction and has advocated for the party to abandon old-school, faction-based politics. But the new lineup of party officials reflects Suga’s understanding that the way factions still dominate power relations inside the party is a reality from which he cannot escape, and that he needs them to reinforce his standing within the party.
In particular, Suga would not have been able to emerge as a leading contender without backing from Nikai.
Suga has developed a tight-knit bond with Nikai as they both ascended to the national political arena after starting out as local assembly members.
By keeping Nikai on in a job that gives him an enormous discretion over party business and campaign funds, Suga has essentially strengthened the pattern of the duo acting in one another’s mutual interests, while telegraphing Suga’s expectation that Nikai will keep the party in line.
However, Nikai has rejected any suggestions of quid pro quo, stressing that such ideas were “biases against the LDP living inside the heads of journalists.”
“Yes, we supported Suga with everything we had, but there were neither expectations, at all, nor fact that we’d be given a role (by Suga),” Nikai said, adding that he would not overlook skirmishes within the party or allow them to occur.
On Monday evening, Suga, too, dismissed concern that he may be at the mercy of factions.
“My job, as I’ve said, is to break down sectionalism, vested interests and a fixed mindset of merely following precedents, so that I’m not subjected to the harmful effects of factions,” Suga told reporters. “Yet, I’ve earned many votes today after explaining policies, so I believe an environment in which I’m able to carry out the politics I’m aiming (to achieve), with stability, is being put in place.”
Suga is poised to become the prime minister on Wednesday and form a Cabinet, and it’s likely that his eagerness to maintain the existing balance will be demonstrated on his selection of Cabinet personnel.
Finance minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi are expected to remain. Early indications of the likely lineup underscore Suga’s wish to preserve the main structure of Abe’s Cabinet and endeavors.
It is expected that Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s younger brother, will be named the new defense minister.
It is presumed that health minister Katsunobu Kato will be appointed as chief Cabinet secretary, Suga’s old role. Kato was deputy chief Cabinet secretary between 2012 and 2015, and worked alongside Suga closely.
“What I’m hoping for (in personnel) is to have people who are eager to take part in (regulatory) reforms and who show understanding of such reforms,” Suga said Monday.