Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party reacted harshly Tuesday to comments made by the head of junior coalition partner Komeito on the timing of the upcoming LDP leadership race.
When asked during a television program Monday whether the country's general election, to be held by autumn, should be preceded by the LDP presidential election, Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi said, "That may be preferable."
He also said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who doubles as LDP president, "should carefully consider a timing that meets the wishes of the public."
The term Suga is currently serving, which extends through September, is the remaining term of Shinzo Abe, who abruptly stepped down as LDP chief, and therefore prime minister, last year.
Yamaguchi made the unusual remarks after pointing out that progress on COVID-19 vaccinations would create a favorable environment for elections, apparently fearing that the general election — which is a contest for the House of Representatives, the all-important lower Diet chamber — will be a tough fight for his party.
That fear likely stems from the fact that in the 2019 election for the House of Councillors, Komeito saw the number of proportional representation votes drop by 1.04 million compared with the 2016 Upper House poll, to 6.54 million. In Sunday's Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, all the party's candidates won seats but in some cases by slim margins.
Yamaguchi's comments met with strong pushback from LDP members.
"It's up to the LDP to decide how our leadership election should be (run)," Seiko Noda, executive acting secretary-general of the LDP, said at a news conference Tuesday.
"It's another party's business," a different senior party official said. "It's none of their business."
Suga basically aims to win the LDP race smoothly after dissolving the Lower House and bring the party a victory in the general election.
According to a former Cabinet minister, LDP members took the Komeito chief's comments as "an attempt to topple Suga" at a time when no one in the LDP can openly ask for Suga to step down — despite his failure to lead his party to a strong result in recent elections.
At a news conference Tuesday, Yamaguchi stressed that Suga has sole discretion on the Lower House breakup and that the leadership election is the LDP's business.
"Still, he is expected to make more unreasonable demands because a sense of crisis is so strong in Komeito," an LDP source said.
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