OSAKA – Yoshihide Suga became prime minister because he was able to secure the support of the most powerful formal faction leaders in the Liberal Democratic Party, whose members voted for him over rivals Fumio Kishida and Shigeru Ishiba, who also lead their own factions. But behind that support from top formal factions are smaller informal groups of supporters of Suga — who is not a member of any faction himself — that helped propel him to become the nation’s leader.
Which Diet groups have long backed Suga?
One such group is called the Ganesha no Kai, Ganesha being one of the best-known Hindu deities who is worshipped for good fortune in business and is said to be, among other things, a problem-solver. This group consists of 15 Lower House members, all of whom have served in the Diet for four terms or less.
One of the Ganesha no Kai members, Masatoshi Akimoto, said earlier this month that many members have a number of things in common with Suga, including the fact that they don’t belong to one of the established LDP factions. Other aspects of shared common ground include connections to Kanagawa Prefecture (Suga’s electoral district includes several areas of Yokohama) or Hosei University (Suga’s alma mater). And like Suga, many members are also not hereditary Diet members and entered national politics after stints as local politicians (Suga once served as a member of the Yokohama assembly).
Unlike formal LDP factions, however, Ganesha no Kai does not have an office and is not officially registered as a political organization, which would require it to file official reports detailing its expenses and income. Akimoto described Ganesha no Kai as a loose affiliation centered around Suga, a series of lateral connections between members rather than a more structured, top-down organization like formal LDP factions.
While Ganesha no Kai members are all from the Lower House, and are all in their 40s and 50s, there is another group of 11 Upper House members who have all served for three terms or less.
Do the members have a policy platform?
Members don’t have a set of agreed upon goals or principles, and Akimoto says that even on individual issues there can be differences. Akimoto is a strong proponent of renewable energy and ending the use of nuclear power, which puts him at odds with other members of his party. But, like Suga, he supports constitutional revision and casino resorts. Ganesha members, Akimoto said, can communicate their desires to Suga. In his case, he advised Suga to include a mention of the impact of global warming in his campaign for LDP president.
Are Suga group members serving in his administration?
Yes. Of the 26 current members of both Ganesha no Kai and the Upper House group, three are serving as state ministers, two as parliamentary ministers, and one as a deputy chief Cabinet secretary.
What about Cabinet ministers?
Two Cabinet ministers have patronage connections to Suga. Hachiro Okonogi is the chair of the National Public Safety Commission and also the minister in charge of territorial issues, disaster management, ocean policy, and building national resilience. Suga once served as private secretary to Okonogi’s father, who was also a Diet member.
In addition, economy and trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama is the son of former LDP heavyweight Seiroku Kajiyama. The elder Kajiyama was chief Cabinet secretary, Suga’s previous position, in 1996, when Suga won his first Lower House election. He became Suga’s political mentor and after his death in 2000, Suga would continue to visit his grave in Hitachiota, Ibaraki Prefecture. During a videoconference with LDP regional members earlier this month, Suga spoke of what he had learned from Kajiyama.
Among the pieces of advice Kajiyama gave him, Suga said, was not just to listen to the bureaucrats, but also to academics, the business community and to the mass media. Another was that, when considering which industries to foster, to take the initiative with those that would create jobs for people.
Who are some other key Suga advisers not affiliated with the two Diet groups?
Hiroto Izumi serves as a special adviser to Suga and is considered particularly close to him. Izumi is originally from Yokohama. He was a veteran adviser in former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, having worked on issues ranging from building national resilience and local economic revitalization to health care policy.
In addition, Kazuhiro Sugita is a former Kanagawa Prefecture police official and Abe administration veteran who is also close to Suga. He is a deputy chief Cabinet secretary.