Race to the top: The 2018 LDP leadership contest / Ishiba — Anti-Abe pol ready for showdown

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo

Former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba makes a campaign speech for the Nanjo mayoral election in Nanjo, Okinawa Prefecture, on Jan. 18.

The Yomiuri ShimbunThis is the third installment of a series.

On the evening of Feb. 5, a political fundraising party was held by the Ishiba faction of the Liberal Democratic Party at a hotel in Osaka overlooking Osaka Castle. It had the appearance of a pep rally for the LDP presidential election: Although 1,000 seats had been prepared, many participants were still left standing, prompting a hurried scramble for extra chairs.

“We mustn’t have two elections in a row without a vote. When I stand in the presidential election, I want to talk with confidence about what form Japan should take.”

Enthusiasm and applause enveloped the room as Shigeru Ishiba loudly offered this declaration. The 61-year-old former LDP secretary general displayed a readiness for confrontation as he slammed plans by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, 63, to amend the Constitution.

Within the LDP’s Osaka prefectural chapter, there are lingering complaints about Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, 69, who have a tacit alliance with Nippon Ishin no Kai. A member of the prefectural assembly voiced this displeasure, questioning, “Why does the Prime Minister’s Office back the Nippon Ishin no Kai when they’re our adversary in Osaka?”

At the party, Gaku Tanaka, the 50-year-old chair of the Kaizuka City Council, offered words of greeting and recounted how Ishiba once told him, “If the Liberal Democratic Party is going to neglect assembly members, it’d be better if it didn’t exist.” Tanaka effusively praised the faction leader, saying, “Ishiba is suited to be prime minister.”

Ishiba, who also served as regional revitalization minister, has received support and requests to speak throughout the country. The day before visiting Osaka, he appeared in Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture, for a talk, drinking whiskey with local city council members until late at night. His schedule the following day was extremely tight, as he returned to Tokyo on the morning’s first Shinkansen train for a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting before going to Osaka.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Ichiro Kamoshita

Time permitting, Ishiba always drinks with local council members on his trips. His mantra is “Memories of talking politics while drinking never fade. You can build relationships of trust doing this repeatedly.” He received 165 votes from party members in the 2012 LDP presidential election, far more than Abe’s 87. However, his lead was overturned in the final vote by Diet members. With the weight of party member votes increasing due to reforms, his camp hopes a tailwind will see him to victory at the next election.

The Ishiba faction currently has 20 members, including Ishiba himself, very close to the 20-person threshold — excluding the candidate — required to enter a party presidential race. Nevertheless, signs of change have arisen.

A meeting of the Sawarabi-kai, a cross-factional study group of those connected to Ishiba, was held at a Tokyo hotel the night of Jan. 25. At the gathering, former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Kisaburo Tokai, 70 — who does not belong to a faction — declared to Ishiba’s delight, “You don’t need to worry whether you can participate in the presidential election. I’ll be your 20th person.” Other unaffiliated Diet members also offered their support.

Ishiba is also monitoring infighting within the Nukaga faction, to which he formerly belonged. The faction’s upper house members are pressing for the retirement of its 74-year-old leader, Fukushiro Nukaga, and recommending that Wataru Takeshita, the 71-year-old general council chairman, take over.

Nukaga is thought to support Abe, but Takeshita is close to Ishiba. They represent neighboring prefectures, with Takeshita from Shimane and Ishiba from Tottori. Takeshita also recruited supporters for Ishiba’s candidacy in the 2008 party presidential election. Satoshi Nakanishi’s simultaneous assignment to the Nukaga faction in the upper house last December has also given rise to expectations of an alliance. Ishiba believes it would be easy to work together if Takeshita were chairman.

The Nukaga faction traces its origions to the Tanaka faction, formerly led by Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, while the Hosoda faction, of which Abe is a former member, is related to the Fukuda faction of Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda. The so-called “Kaku-Fuku Wars” (from Kakuei and Fukuda), which arose from history between Tanaka and Fukuda during the 1972 party presidential election, still subtly affect ties between the two factions.

“We used to boast of our dominance as the largest faction, but now we’re pushed around by the Hosoda faction. We could strengthen our faction by getting behind Ishiba.” Such opinions exist within the Nukaga faction, whose last member to become prime minister was Keizo Obuchi in 1998.

I can’t forget sweat on his brow

Ichiro Kamoshita

Acting chairman of the Ishiba faction and former environment minister

We’ve worked together for many years as close allies with similar aspirations, and I can speak to Ishiba’s commitment to politics. He carefully listens to what others have to say, and has a strong sense of purpose toward the nation.

Even now, I can’t forget the sweat dripping from his brow at the ceremony to kick off his candidacy for the 2008 party presidential election, his first attempt at the office.

Immediately before, I went with Tatsuya Ito, the former finance minister, and Kenji Kosaka, the former education, culture, sports, science, and technology minister, to persuade Ishiba to run, as he had yet to decide. “First step into the ring!” we all encouraged him. He has a strong sense of responsibility and thinks hard about matters, and perhaps felt pressured to run in the election without sufficient preparation. Ever since I saw him sweat like that, I resolved in my heart that as a politician, I’d be with Shigeru Ishiba to the very end.

He’s diligently visited many regions, making repeated efforts to talk to everyone. He has a simple honesty and is unrefined in a positive sense. I want to prepare for when Ishiba becomes party president, and train with him to take on the responsibility of the nation.Speech

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