Wednesday, August 22, 2007

LDP Discontents Start a New Policy Group. Are the Factions on the Move?

It is not a major news item, but the main dailies are carrying the news. Seven LDP Lower House members got together on the 21st and agreed to found a study group to propose an alternative to what they see as the excessively market-oriented directions of the Koizumi-Abe .administrations. The policy proposals will be announced in early September, thus likely between the inauguration of the new Cabinet and the start of the Diet session. The eight founding members (one member was absent from the inaugural meeting due to a prior commitment) are actively seeking more participants from the rest of the LDP.

The Mainichi notes that the founding members all belong to three factions that have only one Cabinet member (from the Yamazaki faction) between them, and casts doubt on their claim that this is not an anti-Abe movement. So, could T be onto something? Are the factions on the move after all? Does the fact that the dovish heads of the two smaller factions, Sadakazu and Tanigaki and Taku Yamazaki, are openly critical of the prime minister mean anything? Is it significant that the Tsushima faction--by far the largest of the three, a close second in the LDP only to the Machimura faction, which has produced the last three prime ministers including Mr. Abe---has traditionally been very much pro-China (Prime Ministers Kakuei Tanaka, Noboru Takeshita, and Ryutaro Hashimoto, to name three Old Friends of China who have led the faction before Yuji Tsushima), whereas Mr. Abe's relationship with our neighbors is seen more as an arrangement of mutual convenience?

We'll know more after we see the definitive list of Diet members who sign on to this policy study group. (Will it include members from other factions, for instance?) Even more when the new Cabinet is announced. But it is important to remember that the Tsushima faction had started off with two Cabinet members. But Administrative Reform Minister Genichiro Sada and Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma, both Tsushima faction members in good standing, had to resign as the result of, respectively, a political financing scandal and inopportune words about the atomic bombs. In both cases, Mr. Abe promoted his sub-Cabinet level advisors (Yoshimi Watanabe and Yuriko Koike) with the corresponding portfolios, leaving the Tsushima faction out in the cold. My guess is that this imbalance will be corrected, as Mr. Abe seeks to broaden his support base within the LDP.

It is also notable that the eight founding members do not include the leadership of the three factions (arguably; I welcome any corrections). Though I do think that Mr. Mori (the true proprietor of the Machimura faction) will make sure that no one from his faction will up putting his/her name to the group manifesto, I don't see the other factions lining up en masse under the banners of this likely time-limited study group. Accordingly, it is unlikely that the new group is any harbinger of the three factions lining up against the Prime Minister, and the others in his support.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for your views. Its this kind of factional activity which I want to understand better. Lets wind it back for a second. We know that the factions were faced with major challenges when the single-seat constituency system was introduced in 1993 and the Political Party Assistance Law was introduced in 1994. These developments strengthened the Party HQ vis-a-vis the faction leaders. And they were were reinforced by the further development that party leaders began to find it even harder to properly fund their members. Members then developed their own fundraising capabilities and this further lessened the attractiveness of faction membership. Then Koizumi actually focused on the factions and said he wanted to diminish them. He even seemed able to do this to a degree with regards to cabinet appointments and election campaigning.

But, in general, good organisations adapt to change. They find a way to stay relevant and continue to offer members really substantive benefits under the new and changed circumstances. Look, despite the changes working against the factions, the factions have not gone away. So one would think that are they offering their members something else instead of primarily focusing on funds. What is it? Maybe the current factional activity will give us some hints. This promises to be a interesting news item as the current administration develops. T

Anonymous said...

Error: I meant to write "And they were were reinforced by the further development that faction (not party) leaders began to find it even harder to properly fund their members. T

Jun Okumura said...

Aha, you obviously know far more than you were letting on. Naughty, naughty.

Actually, I've been asking myself more or less the same question to some personal discomfort even as I was writing this post. Why do the factions remain? If it's just a matter of time before they go away like the Neanderthals, why is Toshihiro Nikai working so hard to grow a faction of his own? And why does the Machimura faction continue to prosper until it threatens to loom over all its other competitors? And, on a slightly different tangent, why are none of the fiver larger factions led by prime minister candidates (although Taku Yamazaki may still have sleepless nights), while two (three if you take Toshihiro Nikai's undeniable if somewhat distant ambitions into count) of the four lesser ones are? Are the factions shifting to a two-tier structure, with large, general-purpose groups at one end and personality-driven boutiques at the other?

Now you see that it becoming more difficult by the day to put my thoughts together.

On a more manageable issue, the party HQ, as you say, has gained in relative importance. But the party bureaucracy there remains subordinate to the Diet members, who continuously jockey for the choicest HQ slots and Cabinet and sub-Cabinet political appointments. Here, although the prime minister/party president exercises substantial discretion, the support you can bring to your cause should be helpful in gaining an edge. I assume that this is taken into greater consideration in apportioning party roles, compared to Cabinet portfolios, where individual performance in the public eye takes on greater importance. Sub-Cabinet appointments likely falls somewhere in between, closer to party posts because of their anonymity and relative powerlessness.