Former LDP heavyweights join hands to keep Kishida in check

Former heavyweight politicians in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are teaming up to keep in check Prime Minister and LDP President Fumio Kishida, who is strengthening ties with Taro Aso and Toshimitsu Motegi, party vice president and secretary-general, respectively.

“I’m happy having former Prime Minister (Yoshihide) Suga as a special guest,” Toshihiro Nikai, former LDP secretary-general, said at a meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in Tokyo on Tuesday.

“With Nikai, I want to further promote ties between the two countries,” Suga responded.

Nikai, current chairman of the Japan-Vietnam friendship parliamentary league, also had Hiroshi Moriyama, deputy head of the LDP General Council, attend the meeting.

Just before the party leadership election in September, Kishida, as one contender, stressed the need to limit the office terms of LDP executives, aiming to bring down Nikai, then the longest-serving LDP secretary-general.

Although Nikai was the most powerful backer of the Suga administration, Suga moved to replace Nikai as secretary-general to gain support from reform-minded party lawmakers for his re-election as LDP chief.

Suga’s move at the time drew a strong backlash from members of the Nikai faction in the party. But Nikai said Wednesday that he didn’t have any ill feelings toward Suga.

Nikai, Suga and Moriyama, all of whom have become backbenchers since Kishida’s victory in the party election, are joining hands to pit against the party’s current heavyweights, also including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, critics said.

Kishida has made clearer his stance of navigating his administration with Aso and Motegi while maintaining good relations with Abe, now the leader of the biggest intraparty faction.

On Monday, Kishida held a lunch meeting with Aso and Motegi at a Tokyo hotel for about an hour and 20 minutes. Aso leads the LDP’s second-biggest faction and Motegi has become the head of the third-largest group.

Meanwhile, Nikai still leads the fourth-biggest faction, although his influence over party affairs seems to be weakening. Through the House of Representatives election in October, the group of unaffiliated LDP lawmakers that back Suga almost maintained its pre-election strength.

The fate of the Kishida administration “depends on how Suga moves,” an LDP member who once was a Cabinet minister pointed out.

People around Nikai said short-term administrations usually continue after a long one, suggesting that “the turning point for Kishida will be next summer’s House of Councilors election.”

They noted that they will keep watching the situation for the time being while cooperating with Suga and others.

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