Fri, 05 Sep 2003

LDP factions' power waning as dirty practices remain

The Daily Yomiuri, Asia News Network, Tokyo

Who will challenge Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's bid to seek reelection in the Liberal Democratic Party's upcoming presidential election? An answer to this question is emerging at long last, with only several days left until the official start of the campaign for the LDP presidency.

Former LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Shizuka Kamei has already expressed his determination to enter the race. Candidates also include former Transport Minister Takao Fujii, a challenger from the LDP faction led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. In addition, former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and former Health and Welfare Minister Yuya Niwa have expressed a willingness to run.

The LDP's top position is a passport to the premiership. With its responsibility as the largest ruling party in mind, the LDP must ensure that its forthcoming election is a meaningful race.

This requires Koizumi and his challengers to seriously debate policy issues. The prime minister should fully explain his policies, so he would be able to show that critics have no reason to label him a "sound bite politician."

LDP legislators critical of the prime minister have been particularly harsh on his economic policies designed to promote structural reforms. If they are truly loyal to their beliefs, these LDP members should come clean and tell the people they are opposed to Koizumi, who is highly popular among the public. Koizumi's challengers in the LDP race should state what is wrong with his economic policies, while also listing what should be done to bring the nation's troubled economy back on track.

Regrettably, one LDP faction has determined what kind of approach it will take in the upcoming election -- it chose to field a person whose candidacy would not split the faction. The faction hardly bothered to think about what kind of policies its candidate should present in campaigning for the election. This attitude should be condemned.

The need to improve the economy is not the only task facing the government today. There are many other issues to be addressed, including the declining birthrate combined with the rapid graying of the population, and the medical insurance, pension, nursing care and tax systems. Challenges also include problems related to foreign policy and national security.

The candidates should be encouraged to shed light on these issues through policy debates during the election campaign.

The anti-Koizumi groups experienced great difficulties in deciding what kind of stance they would adopt toward the presidential election. In stark contrast to the past, LDP factions have found it extremely difficult to bind their members to decisions their leaders make, in what could be described as a "meltdown" of the factions.

This can be seen, for example, in the Hashimoto faction, the largest LDP faction. At one time, three members of the faction said they were prepared to run. The faction wasted a great deal of time debating whether to field any candidate until at last it was decided that Fujii would run.

Despite Fujii's candidacy, most House of Councillors members who belong to the Hashimoto faction do not intend to vote for him. They are poised to support Koizumi's reelection bid.

For many years, the Hashimoto faction was strongly united. Its members called themselves "comrades of one mind who eat boxed meals of a kind." The pitiful state of affairs surrounding the Hashimoto faction shows that the group is far less united than in the past.

The same applies for the faction led by LDP General Council Chairman Mitsuo Horiuchi. Horiuchi has said he will support Koizumi in the upcoming race, but some senior faction members have rebelled against him.

The LDP presidential election used to be a battlefield in which each party faction engaged in a bitter contest. It is ironic to see, however, that the upcoming election is serving to show that the LDP factions are rapidly losing their internal cohesion.

All this should be seen as a sign that the LDP factions are virtually unable to function as a pivot of the party's management any more.

The forthcoming LDP election will provide the party with an excellent opportunity to choose a leader whom voters -- the party's lawmakers and rank-and-file members -- have determined to be best suited for the party's top position by examining the candidates' policies. By selecting its new leader through that process, we believe the LDP will be able to open a new horizon in its history.