Is a Grand Kochikai Possible?

Dr. Satohiro Akimoto
Chairman and President of Sasakawa USA
March 1, 2022

Dr. Satohiro Akimoto, Chairman and President of Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA

The Demise of the Proud Kochikai

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office on February 25, 2022. (Official Website of the Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet)

“Kochikai has just become an LDP’s presidential faction for the first time in 30 years.” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida proudly declared this statement at a Kishida faction (Kochikai) meeting immediately following his victory in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election on September 30, 2021. Prime Minister Kishida went on to urge the faction members that “we must realize significance of responsibility bestowed on us. We, Kochikai, will unite to do our best to help Japan overcome national challenges.”[1]

Kochikai is the oldest existing faction within the LDP established by former Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda in 1957 (Figure 1). The faction is considered a main conservative group following the genealogy of the Liberal Party established by former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida in 1950. Kochikai has been a proud party consisting of many former bureaucrats. Four out of the first five leaders of this faction became prime ministers, namely, Mr. Hayato Ikeda, Mr. Masayoshi Ohira, Mr. Zenko Suzuki, and Mr. Kiichi Miyazawa. However, Kochikai went into a period of stagnation, exemplified by being unable to produce a prime minister since former Prime Minister Miyazawa left office in 1993.[2]

Figure 1. Lineage of Kochikai
Note: This historical chart shows Kochikai’s factions from its beginning to the present day.

Unfortunately, Kochikai could not maintain its unity. Mr. Yohei Kono, a leader, who later became chairman of the House of Representatives, left the Kochikai faction to form Kono Group in 1998, after losing the battle to become leader of the faction to Mr. Koichi Kato, former Chief Cabinet Secretary under the Miyazawa cabinet.  Mr. Taro Aso, former Prime Minister and current LDP Vice President, was one of the lawmakers, who joined Kono Group at its beginning. Furthermore, the faction tragically split into two smaller factions in 2000 over a political gamble by Mr. Kato, then leader of the faction, to join the opposition parties’ non-confidence motion against the LDP’s Yoshiro Mori cabinet. The breakup was so messy that the two split factions, Ozato faction and Horiuchi faction, both called themselves Kochikai.

Kochikai’s political clout significantly weakened within the LDP power politics, as it became a much smaller faction because of the split. As a result of these divisions, there are currently three factions, which share the same Kochikai roots, namely, Kishida faction (former Horiuchi faction), Tanigaki Group (former Ozato faction), and Aso faction (former Kono Group). In 2001, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi won the LDP presidential election and ushered in a new era, in which the Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyu Kai faction wielded power within the LDP.

Grand Kochikai Concept

Prime Minister Kishida takes the tradition of Kochikai seriously. So much so that he has been using modified versions of political slogans of Old Kochikai since he began campaigning to become the LDP president last summer. For example, Prime Minister Kishida’s slogan “Courteous and generous politics” is based on former Prime Minister Ikeda’s slogan “generous and patient politics.” “Vision for Digital Garden City Nation” clearly has its genesis in former Prime Minister Ohira’s “Vision for Garden City Nation.” “The Reiwa Era’s Income Doubling Plan,” which quickly backfired on Prime Minister Kishida as an unrealistic plan, is a carbon copy of “The Income Doubling Plan” advocated by former Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda.

As a matter of fact, Prime Minister Kishida has a strong yearning for putting three factions (Kishida, Tanigaki, and Aso) back together to form Grand Kochikai.  After he lost the LDP presidential election in 2020, he approached former Prime Minister Aso to form Medium-Sized Kochikai by merging the Kishida faction and Aso faction. However, Prime Minister Kishida’s attempt failed to secure support from Mr. Makoto Koga, his predecessor as leader of Kochikai, who did not get along with former Prime Minister Aso and could not accept Mr. Aso becoming the leader of a merged Kochikai.

A big factor for Prime Minister Kishida’s victory in the LDP presidential election last September was support from the Aso faction and Tanigaki Group. Former Prime Minister Aso did not fully support Mr. Taro Kono’s bid to be elected Prime Minister, despite the fact that Mr. Kono belonged to the Aso faction. Mr. Aso might have worried that widely popular Mr. Kono would accelerate the process of becoming leader of Aso faction. Additionally, Mr. Akira Amari of Aso faction and Mr. Toshiaki Endo of Tanigaki Group played a major role in Prime Minister Kishida’s campaign management to become the LDP leader. What happened in this process created an inadvertent re-emergence of a de facto Grand Kochikai concept based on cooperation among Kishida faction, Aso faction, and Tanigaki Group.

Prime Minister Kishida appointed several key members of the Aso faction and Tanigaki Group to cabinet level positions and key LDP leadership positions.  Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki and former Secretary General Akira Amari are members of the Aso faction.[3] Mr. Suzuki’s father was former Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki, who was once a leader of Kochikai before it’s breakup in 2001. Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Genjiro Kaneko, Minister of State for Disaster Management and Ocean Policy and Chairperson of the National Public Safety Commission Satoshi Ninoyu, and Chairperson of Election Strategy Committee Toshiaki Endo, belong to Tanigaki Group.[4]

Former Prime Minister Abe was not pleased with Prime Minister Kishida because his support for Prime Minister Kishida’s victory in the second round of the LDP presidential election was not properly reflected in the cabinet level and LDP leadership appointments from the Abe faction. Prime Minister Kishida’s real intention is not clear with regard to the few appointments of Abe faction members, but the fact is that many lawmakers from Kochikai, Aso faction, and Tanigaki Group were appointed at cabinet level and LDP leadership positions.

Factions Are Back

The biggest faction within the LDP is the Abe faction with 94 members. Former Prime Minister Abe is very active in politics and this faction always will be part of Prime Minister Kishida’s political calculation. Despite a less than cordial relationship, these two political heavyweights maintain a polite working relationship so far. Prime Minister Kishida personally asked former Prime Minister Abe to visit Malaysia to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the bilateral diplomatic relationship as a special envoy last December. This move by Prime Minister Kishida was largely interpreted as his effort to appease former Prime Minister Abe.

Former Prime Minister Suga, former Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, and former Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Hiroshi Moriyama have been forming what is widely interpreted as an anti-Kishida group. These three leaders, who have a strained relationship with Prime Minister Kishida, will have roughly 70 LDP lawmakers under their influence should they be successful in forming a unified front. Furthermore, former Prime Minister Suga has close communication channels with Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, and Nihon Ishin no Kai, a quickly growing party on the verge of becoming a national level player.

After all, Kishida faction is only the fourth largest faction within LDP with 43 members. Prime Minister Kishida’s victory in the LDP presidential election was made possible by complex political calculation and scheming with other factions. However, Prime Minister Kishida may have over 100 LDP lawmakers under his influence if Kishida faction joins forces with 49 members of the Aso faction and roughly 25 members of Tanigaki Group. This combination of factions would surpass the largest faction (Abe faction) in the LDP. An additional element in this complex factional landscape within the LDP is a faction led by Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, which has 53 members. The Motegi faction is the second largest faction as of now, but that could quickly change in accordance with moves by other factions.

Becoming the largest faction in terms of membership does not necessarily immediately ensure Grand Kochikai the biggest influence, even if it becomes a reality. There are some serious operational issues. Leadership positions will be a serious issue for the Kishida faction, Aso faction, and Tanigaki Group, as soon as they get back together. Furthermore, former Prime Minister Aso is 81 years old, and he may retire sooner than in the distant future. Mr. Kono may be Mr. Aso’s successor in the Aso faction, while the Kishida faction already has Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi as Mr. Kishida’s potential successor. It will be an uncomfortable co-existence for Prime Minister Kishida along with two popular politicians with big ambitions within a single party.

Considering these hurdles, it may be more realistic for Prime Minister Kishida to continue to coordinate among the three factions, which share good chemistry, to solidify the base for his leadership within the LDP. As a matter of fact, Prime Minister Kishida is said to be careful about even making his own faction too large because of a concern that it may give Foreign Minister Hayashi space to create his own group within the Kishida faction. Furthermore, the Aso faction is concerned that Mr. Kono might leave the faction along with some young politicians, if Grand Kochikai becomes a reality. Additionally, Mr. Endo of Tanigaki Group openly says that he is “not even thinking about (the possibility of) Grand Kochikai.”[5] Finally, Grand Kochikai, if it is realized, could be taken as a direct challenge to Abe’s faction for dominance within the LDP.

At one point, there was a view that factions were not as important as they used to be at the time of the LDP presidential election. After all, the Hosoda faction (current Abe faction), Aso faction, Takeshita faction, Nikai faction, and Ishihara faction essentially allowed their respective members to vote individually, instead of collectively as a faction, for LDP president last September. In other words, five out of seven LDP factions did not choose a candidate to support as a faction. This move was a realistic decision by faction leaders to keep younger members, who had weak support in respective districts, in their respective factions. Those young member politicians had to reflect the opinions of LDP voters in their respective districts in casting their vote in the LDP presidential election having the Lower House election the next month. The situation within the LDP has completely changed. Politics based on factions are roaring back within the LDP.

 

[1] 平井卓也 (Takuya Hirai), “宏池会/岸田新総裁挨拶_20210930 (Greetings from Kochikai / New President Kishida),” YouTube video, 2:19, September 30, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YemeaWxv50.

[2] Precisely speaking, it is the first time in 28 years Kochikai produced a Prime Minister.

[3] Amari resigned following his defeat in the Lower House single seat election on October 31, 2021.

[4] Tanigaki Group is a loosely affiliated group so that members may belong to another faction. Kaneko is a member of Kishida faction and Ninoyu is a member of Motegi faction.

[5] “宏池会系派閥、緩やかに連携 岸田政権支え、安倍派刺激を回避 (Kochikai faction, loose cooperation Supports Kishida administration, avoids Abe faction stimulation),” JiJi Press, December 30, 2021, https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2021122900479&g=pol.

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