Japanese Politics Updates – February 4, 2024

Play Video about Japanese politics updates: Japanese Politics One-on-One #156

Synopsis of “Japanese Politics One-on-One” Episode #156 delivered to you through the collaboration of Langley Esquire and Japan Expert Insights.

Governor Yuriko Koike might return to national politics

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike seems poised to move as a Lower House Seat from Tokyo’s 28 Wards came open this week with the resignation of Mito Kakizawa. This means his seat must be filled in a by-election on April 28. Two other seats are also vacant (one due to the death of the Member, the other to the resignation of a Member). Both resignations stem from political funds law violations, both Members from the Abe Faction. But the point here is that should Gov. Koike resign 3 months before her second term ends, and runs for vacant District 15, she will undoubtedly win. Further, this would qualify her (as a Lower House Member, presumably in the LDP) to run for Prime Minister. Speculation is building particularly because of the other imbalances Japanese politics is currently experiencing. 

Abe Faction closes its doors

This Faction, started by former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, produced 4 Prime Ministers through its 45-year history. Now the remaining 97 Members will collectively hold together as a Policy Study Group. The Members are also free to fraternize with others in a way earlier frowned upon. What happens to the legacy bank account is open to speculation and attack. It was the Big Wigs that got everyone into trouble by syphoning-off so much of the money the faction generated over the last 20+ years. Publicly, the only admitted number is ¥676.5 million over a very limited 3-year window (2018~2022). In the meantime, there has been an announcement that the Kishida Faction is to disband, too (no date set). The Moriyama Faction has disbanded and the Nikai Faction has, as well. Taro Aso (Deputy Prime Minister) has decidedly NOT disbanded his Faction (and is irate at the Prime Minister for toppling these structures without fully including him), and Toshimitsu Motegi has not announced any plans to disband his Faction.

Citizens group files suit for tax evasion

The group filed suit for tax evasion against 10 of the Abe Faction Big Wigs. The suit is for the amount of money they have admittedly pocketed and not-reported. Currently, the blame is being placed on the diet secretaries and the accountants. The LDP is being pressured to hold these 10 plus all who benefitted from this long-term scam to Ethics Committee examination and to hearings. We will watch how this develops.

Shigeru Ishiba holds a Faction Meeting

Ishiba once was a darling of the LDP, but he stepped on too many toes. A brilliant politician who began to form a new faction years ago, stopped it all 2~3 years ago and went totally silent. He rekindled this group (not quite a Faction) this week. A sign of things to come.

Noda Seiko is making moves to be PM candidate

This very popular female LDP leader (63yo, 10x, Gifu Prefecture, long list of Ministerial portfolios), was a candidate against Kono Taro, Fumio Kishida, and Sanae Takaichi. In the end, she lost in the first round but received Minister portfolio as a consolation. Who else will toss in their hat? It is really starting to become more and more interesting as PM Kishida’s star continues to fall.

PM Kishida in trouble, sees a sliver of hope

President Joe Biden presented Kishida with a potentially huge Hail Mary Pass by inviting him for a State Visit on April 10. This has not happened since Abe-Obama 12 years ago. Two Super Powers, having a State Dinner, maybe even Addressing Congress. “A true Global Leader” the press will proclaim. This might just be the gust of wind the Prime Minister has been looking for as an excuse to hold a snap election. Timing would be tight, but with his term of office ending in September, this might be his only opportunity. All eyes will be on the Biden-Kishida lovefest, and what happens within days: the By Election is on 4/28. If Kishida closes-down the Lower House, he must announce by 4/15. Unlikely to announce while in Washington, D.C., and that State Visit is likely to last 3 days or so. So, this is very much a gamble many think he will take. Keep close as we continue to follow this development!

Opposition Parties ganging-up on Kishida

Last week the opposition parties all had a reason to collaborate (finally!) and agree upon something: “we will not participate in budget hearings until the LDP presents a full list of all Members who received kickback-funds, how much they received, and what they did with the funds. To put a finer point on it, they demanded performance on Monday, February 5. Lines in the sand are being drawn and re-drawn. What the Prime Minister does tomorrow in the Budget Hearing Room will be determinative.

Motegi Faction shaking

5 defections from this last of two remaining factions just this last week. This is significant. Importantly, the exodus was led by Yuko Obuchi, daughter of former Prime Minister Obuchi (who died in-office). More might leave as this Faction is holding together by thin strings (two opposing groups make-up the Faction-at-large). In contrast, the steady and holdfast position of the Aso Faction makes it look like the only group that has their act together is, strangely enough, the Aso Faction. And not only that, but given the slipshod fashion the PM has handled this whole affair, his former staunch ally (Deputy Prime Minister Aso) is now a driven and emboldened opponent.

Questions Poised (65 minutes)

  • After what Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said about Ms. Kamikawa (Foreign Minister), I am perplexed. Even after all these years, he never changes, and will not. I don’t understand why he can keep his status as congressman. What are your thoughts on his comments, and as his standing as a politician?
  • Any indication that the weaker opposition parties are ever going to get their acts together and be a viable opposition? Is this the opportunity they have been waiting for?
  • About Ms. Yuriko Koike: one of the few times my work has overlapped with politics involved a series of speeches for a conference that she was involved in hosting. It was one of the best-prepared projects I have had the pleasure of working on. I was highly impressed.
  • Excellent briefing, Timothy! Do you see opposition parties – notably the Japan Innovation Party (Ishin) – benefiting from the challenges faced by the LDP? Is there any scenario short term where the ruling party’s hold on power is challenged? How about the LDP coalition with Komeito – does it remain strong? Thanks a lot.
  • I was wondering where Timothy was coming from today: are you broadcasting from an underground bunker, your interrogation room, in a holding cell — now I have my only slightly less interesting guess … inside the cabin of a boat? What a change from your normal background. What gives? 
  • What about Ishin in Osaka…are they gaining power nationally and could you please explain their strategy to increase their hold?