Abe's power play: PM adept at handling personnel matters of factions

Abe's power play: PM adept at handling personnel matters of factions
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a meeting at his official residence in Tokyo January 21, 2015. Japan will do its utmost to free two of its countrymen believed to be held captive by the Islamic State militant group, Abe told reporters on Wednesday, adding that Tokyo would never give in to terrorism.

This is the second instalment in a series.

With a glass of beer in one hand, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in a gleeful mood.

After finishing his official duties on the night of Feb. 10, Abe rushed to a luxury restaurant in the Akasaka amusement area of Tokyo, hoping to attend a meeting of the Liberal Democratic Party's Hosoda faction, known as Seiwa-kai.

The faction is chaired by House of Representatives member Hiroyuki Hosoda, who was appointed to his current position in late 2014.

Abe hails from Seiwa-kai, although his membership has been suspended since becoming prime minister.

During the meeting, Hosoda touched on agricultural cooperative reforms.

His mention of the matter pleased the prime minister, who said, "Though there were strong objections [to the reform] at first, success was achieved in forming a consensus [among pertinent organisations]."

The dispute over the matter had been settled the previous day.

Three senior members of the faction nodded assent to Abe's remark - Yoshiro Mori, Junichiro Koizumi and Yasuo Fukuda, all former prime ministers from the faction.

The Feb. 10 meeting was intended as a celebratory party marking the inauguration of former Seiwa-kai chairman Nobutaka Machimura as lower house speaker. He had chaired the faction as Hosoda's predecessor.

Shortly after Abe's arrival, Machimura left the meeting.

In December, Abe recommended Machimura for the top position at the lower house, replacing him with Hosoda as Seiwa-kai leader.

Hosoda has close relations with the prime minister.

Abe's move was seen as a crafty attempt to alienate Machimura from the pivot of the faction, thereby placing the group, in effect, under his thumb.

On the night of Feb. 10, Abe was surrounded by his three predecessors as prime minister. The meeting showed every Seiwa-kai member that the LDP's largest faction belongs, in effect, to Abe.

Abe's adeptness in taking a grip on power through the cunning distribution of posts seems to have penetrated into other LDP factions.

This can be symbolized by the fact that his Cabinet includes five figures from the Kishida faction, the third-largest group within the LDP.

The faction, known as Kochikai, traditionally a group of dovish politicians, is led by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

The Kishida faction has been given "exceptionally favourable treatment" in the awarding of ministerial posts, according to a Cabinet minister.

Kochikai would originally have been the antithesis of the hard-line Abe. Kishida is a "post-Abe" contender, but a faction leader says frankly that "when you get that kind of favourable treatment, no one is going to defy the administration."

Recently the name Kochikai is often heard from the leading opposition Democratic Party of Japan. Leader Katsuya Okada repeatedly describes his own political stance as "the old Kochikai."

While within the DPJ there are conservative and liberal groups and the party's stance is not fixed, a DPJ executive said Okada and others are being cynical about "Kochikai, which normally should be squaring off against Abe but is pandering to him."

What spurred the hearty welcome to Kochikai was the resignation of three ministers due to "politics and money."

Their three appointed successors, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, are all Kochikai members.

With the resignation of Yuko Obuchi as Economy, Trade and Industry Minister, the second-largest Nukaga faction, Heisei-ken, has only one Cabinet minister, but the brunt of dissatisfaction has been targeted internally.

"We want the chairman to speak properly with the prime minster."

At the Jan. 29 regular meeting of the Nukaga faction, attendees expressed their irritation to chairman Fukushiro Nukaga, but there was no clear answer from him.

Within the faction currently it is not unusual to hear member parliamentarians curse Nukaga, saying he "takes poor care" of them when they appear together.

Heisei-ken and Kochikai are similar in their moderate diplomatic line, but both groups are lacking the momentum to mobilize.

Through the disparity of his treatment of the second and third factions Abe has been successful in preventing the formation of opposition elements.

A key member of Heisei-ken lamented, "The prime minister saw through us and knew he needn't fear giving us the cold shoulder."

On the night of Feb. 25 the faction leaders assembled in a Tokyo restaurant and agreed to support the Abe administration. One of the attendees said self-mockingly, "Usually the factions would speak up more and there would be a balanced internal party debate."

The current situation can be described as "Abe the all-powerful," but Makoto Koga, honorary chairman of Kochikai and former LDP secretary general, urges incumbent politicians to rouse themselves, asking "Is it acceptable to have an attitude of always obeying the prime minister?" Diet members close to Koga have pointed out.

"In their hearts, many people feel the same way as Mr. Koga, but current influential lawmakers can't say anything because the repercussions are too great."

When looking at the power and the ratio of government appointees of each faction within the LDP, while it can be said that Abe does not adhere to factions, they can also be seen as well balanced.

Of the Diet members belonging to LDP factions, the proportions belonging to the top three factions are: Hosoda faction, 33 per cent; Nukaga faction, 19 per cent; and Kishida faction, 15 per cent. In contrast, excluding non-faction and New Komeito ministers, the Cabinet breaks down as 18 per cent Hosoda faction, 9 per cent Nukaga faction and 45 per cent Kishida faction, making the Kishida faction representation prominently large.

But include vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries and the result is 33 per cent Hosoda faction, 19 per cent Nukaga faction and 17 per cent Kishida faction - roughly in line with the power of the factions as a whole.

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