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Liberal Democratic Party Factions

The Liberal Democratic Party, is composed of factions - habatsu. Factions are real organizations formed around a particular leader. The faction headquarters are in Tokyo: they have offices, publications, name lists of their members. Factions are not simply people who are in general agreement on some policy or generally identified as being in the center or more liberal or more conservative. These are formal organizations of politicians within the political parties, especially within the Liberal Democratic Party. The United States does not have the kind of formal factional arrangements that exist in Japan.

The LDP was not a single organization but a conglomeration of competitive factions, which, despite the traditional emphasis on consensus and harmony, engaged in bitter infighting. Over the years, factions numbered from six to thirteen, with as few as four members and as many as 120, counting those in both houses. The system was operative in both houses, although it was more deeply entrenched in the House of Representatives than in the less powerful House of Councillors. Faction leaders usually were veteran LDP politicians. Many, but not all, had served as prime minister.

During the long, uninterrupted reign of the LDP from 1955 to the early 1990s, competition between factions helped to fill a democratic void created by the uncompetitive nature of the broader political system. Multi-member districts meant that LDP factions actually ran candidates against one another in elections, letting voters choose which party faction to back.

Faction leaders offered their followers services without which the followers would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to survive politically. Leaders provided funds for the day-to-day operation of Diet members' offices and staff as well as financial support during expensive election campaigns. The operating allowances provided by the government were inadequate. The leader also introduced his followers to influential bureaucrats and business people, which made it much easier for the followers to satisfy their constituents' demands.

Factions originated in the "55 system," the system that emerged in 1955 when the Liberal Democratic Party and the Socialist Party were created. Liberal Democratic Party or Jiyu Minshu To (more popularly called LDP) was formed on November 15, 1955, by the combination of two opposition parties, the PartyLiberal (Jiyu To) led by Shigeru Yoshida and the Japanese Democratic Party (Minsyu To) led by Ichiro Hatoyama.

Historically, the most powerful and aggressive faction leader in the LDP was Tanaka Kakuei, whose dual-house strength in the early 1980s exceeded 110. His followers remained loyal despite the fact that he had been convicted of receiving 500 million (nearly US$4 million) in bribes from Lockheed to facilitate the purchase of its passenger aircraft by All Nippon Airways and that he had formally withdrawn from the LDP. Tanaka and his bitterest factional rival, Fukuda Takeo, were a study in contrasts. Tanaka was a roughhewn wheeler-dealer with a primary school education who had made a fortune in the construction industry; Fukuda was an elite product of the University of Tokyo Law Faculty and a career bureaucrat.

In the face of Fukuda's strong opposition, Tanaka engineered the selections of prime ministers Ohira Masayoshi (1978-80) and Suzuki Zenko (1980-82). The accession of Nakasone Yasuhiro to the prime ministership in 1982 would also not have occurred without Tanaka's support. As a result, Nakasone, at that time a politically weak figure, was nicknamed "Tanakasone." But Tanaka's faction was dealt a grave blow when one of his subordinates, Takeshita Noboru, decided to form a breakaway group. Tanaka suffered a stroke in November 1985, but four years passed before he formally retired from politics.

The LDP faction system was closely fitted to the House of Representatives' medium-sized, multiple-member election districts. The party usually ran more than one candidate in each of these constituencies to maintain its lower house majority, and these candidates were from different factions. During an election campaign, the LDP, in a real sense, ran not only against the opposition but also against itself. In fact, intraparty competition within one election district was often more bitter than interparty competition, with two or more LDP candidates vying for the same block of conservative votes. For example, in the House of Representatives election of February 18, 1990, three LDP and three opposition candidates competed for five seats in a southwestern prefecture. Two of the LDP candidates publicly expressed bitterness over the entry of the third, a son of the prefectural governor. Local television showed supporters of one of the LDP candidates cheering loudly when the governor's son was edged out for the fifth seat by a Komeito candidate.

About half of all Japanese politicians and even more than that in the case of the Liberal Democratic Party are the sons of people who are members of the Japanese Diet, who are themselves sons of the members of the Japanese Diet. And this so-called "second generation phenomenon" sets Japan again apart from almost all other modern democratic societies.

In 1993 there were various political and economic scandals and also the end of Japan's economic miracle. The LDP failed to get a single majority seat even though it is still the largest party in parliament. The high degree of malapportionment in favor of rural areas the LDPs traditional support base had helped the party garner more seats than warranted by their declining vote share. The creation of new single-member districts, which required a significant reapportionment of seats.

The factions are not as strong as they used to be dues to the introduction of the single-seat district system in 1994. Previously, the Lower House had a midsize multiseat constituency system in which several people from the same party ran against each other. Under the leadership of a strong faction head, members got full backing from their groups to win the election.

The Party Subsidies Law in 1994 further weakened the factions. Previously, the groups were the main fundraising bodies with money was distributed to their members. The new law stripped the faction chiefs of their purses and gave them to the partys executives. Factions are also becoming less powerful in Japanese politics because factions can no longer raise as much money as they used to raise.

Most importantly, the faction leaders are unable to raise the huge amounts of money required to survive in Japanese political life. It is estimated that it costs a back-bencher at least a million dollars a year to be in public office in Japan. The power and roles of factional groups within the LDP have changed a lot since the days when their balance of power heavily influenced the partys decisions. Although the "money game" is less important following changes in Japan's electoral system and in the Political Funding Control Law, LDP factions still support their members financially and continue to use their influence whenever possible to secure appointments in the government and party.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi effectively broke the power of the factions for good in 2005 when he called a snap election and ran assassin candidates against LDP members who didnt back his Post Office privatization plans; the success of this strategy proved that power and authority in the LDP now lay in the prime ministers office, not in the hands of faction bosses.

Chief Cabinet Secretary (CCS) Shinzo Abe surprised no one by announcing 12 August 2006 before a hometown crowd in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture his intention to run for the post of ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) President. the 73 members of Nukaga's Tsushima faction and the 37 members of the Yamasaki faction were expected to throw their support behind Abe, despite pronouncements from Tsushima faction leaders that their members will vote independently. The 15-member Nikai faction and the 48-member Niwa-Koga faction had already expressed support for Abe, while the 32-member Ibuki faction was behind him almost from the start. Abe's own 87-member Mori faction, meanwhile, also appeared fairly solidly behind Abe since the withdrawal of fellow faction member, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, on July 21. All 15 of the Komura faction's members are also believed to have shifted their allegiance to Abe after Fukuda's withdrawal.

As of 01 August 2008, there were eight factions, though by 2018 the number had declined to seven. Keeping track of the factions is tedious, since they are normally identified by the name of their current leader, which of course changes over time, even though the larger factions are quite persistent.

  1. The largest, with 88 members in 2008 and 94 in 2018, was known as Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyuukai (Seiwa Political-analysis Council - Seiwakaen), long led by former Chief Cabinet Secretary and former foreign minister Nobutaka Machimura. Found by Takeo Fukuda in 1962, this was a classic and conservative pro-economic faction. This faction produced the four prime ministers before Aso Yoshiro Mori, Junichiro Koizumi, Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda. Past faction leaders included Abes father, the late Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, having served as leader of the faction 1986-1991.
  2. The second largest faction, with 20 members in 2008 and 59 in 2018, was headed by Taro Aso [briefly Prime Minister from 24 Sep 2008 to 16 Sep 2009]. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso controls the second-biggest faction. A former prime minister who has served under Abe since 2012, Aso has pledged to keep supporting the premier and his fight against deflation. Those ties help explain why the 77-year-old has been able to withstand resignation calls over the ministrys involvement in recent scandals and his unsympathetic comments about a sexual harassment case.
  3. The third largest, with 70 members in 2008 and 55 in 2018, was known as Heisei Kenkyuu Kai, or Heisei Research Group, is a Keynesian, Right-Liberal and Pro-China Faction. The current chairman is Fukushiro Nukaga since September 2009. Wataru Takeshitas faction dominated the LDP in the late 1980s and early 1990s under his elder brother, but its strength has since faded. In 2008 it was led by Yuji Tsushima, and previously led by Kakuei Tanaka, Noboru Takeshita, Keizo Obuchi, and Ryutaro Hashimoto. This had been the largest for several years and was the springboard to the prime ministership for the late Kakuei Tanaka, one of the most influential but also arguably most corrupt LDP lawmakers. During Lockheed Scandal, Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka was forced to resign in 1974 as a result or corruption allegations. In 1976, he was arrested for taking bribes. Prime Ministers Keizo Obuchi and Ryutaro Hashimoto were also leaders of this faction. The LDPs Tsushima faction had included the mercantilist Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka, and also the normalising Ministers of Defence Shigeru Ishiba, Fumio Kyuma, and the JDA Director General Fukushiro Nukaga. Previously led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. De facto, this faction was led by member of the upper house of Mikio Aoki. This faction has a strong influence in the bureaucracy. But former Prime Minister Hashimoto and his faction were hit by a scandal when the faction had taken money from the Japan Dental Association. Hashimoto was released from office in 2004, and quit the political world in the same year.
  4. The fourth-largest faction, known as Kochikai (Large Reservoir Association) with 61 members in 2008 and 47 in 2018, was headed by Fumio Kishida, who assumed the control of the faction in October 2012. Makoto Koga, one-time chairman of the LDP Election Strategy Council, and one of the most powerful politicians of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Koga was also once a kingmaker among the various LDP factions and past head of the once extremely politically powerful Japan War Bereaved Families Association, which wants the Emperor to visit Yasukuni Shrine. Koga, who served as transport minister, LDP diet affairs chair, LDP secretary-general, and LDP election strategy chief during his tenure as a Diet member from 1980 to 2011. Historically, this faction was the most prestigious faction, with many members drawn from the high class bureaucratic elite. On the policy side, although it is not clearly consistent historically, it belongs to the middle school group within the LDP and, in particular security , although it places emphasis on US-Japan relations , a slight dove tendency is seen.
  5. The fifth largest faction, known as Atarashii Nami (New Wave) with 16 members in 2008 and 44 in 2018, was headed by former LDP General Council Chairman Toshiro Nikai. This faction was the most right-wing faction in the LDP when founded in 1999. Made up socially very conservative former Rightist elements of the Social Democrats/Social Liberal Democratic Party who agreed with its reformism, but later joined the LDP on Basis of shared conservatism. Once a home for the partys right wing, its image has changed considerably under Nikai, 79, who is known for his friendly ties with China.
  6. The sixth largest faction had 19 members and one cabinet minister as of 2018. Former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba founded his own group in 2015, in a bid to bolster his chances of becoming party leader. Ishiba topped Abe in a recent survey asking voters who should lead the LDP next year, and hes expected to throw his hat in the ring. Ishiba has expressed concern about rushing to change the constitution and urged the government to maintain its target of reaching a primary balance surplus by 2020.
  7. The seventh largest faction, known as Bancho Seisaku Kenkyuujo (Bancho Policy-analysis Institute) with 15 members in 2008 and 14 in 2018, was a pro-China and centrist faction headed by former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura.

Factions that had faded included as Kinmirai Seiji Kenkyuukai (Research for Politics of the Near Future) with 41 members in 2008, headed by former LDP Vice President Taku Yamasaki, and Commander Plan Association with 28 members in 2008, headed by led by former Finance Minister Bunmei Ibuki.

The September 2018 LDP leadership election provided an opportunity for the party to sum up its appraisal of the Abe administrations achievements and its policies. In his quest for a third term as LDP chief, Abe had the backing of the Hosoda faction plus two groups headed respectively by Finance Minister Taro Aso and LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai which combined accounted for roughly half of the LDPs Diet members. The partys largest faction, from which Abe himself hails, is headed by veteran lawmaker Hiroyuki Hosoda.

Long gone are the days when factional politics were of great interest to Japanese voters; since the electoral reform, these things have become the most inside of inside baseball stories.

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Page last modified: 16-08-2018 15:28:57 ZULU