By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – A group of junior lawmakers has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in Japan’s ruling party leadership contest, facing off with party barons in the wide-open race for votes on Wednesday, which will also determine the premiership.
A majority of the 90 members of this group, which rode to power with former prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s support, worry about losses in the next general election.
Keitaro Ahno (53), a lawmaker and one of the founding members of the Group for Renewing Party Spirit said that there is no transparency about how the group operates, or an explanation. He was referring to established factions.
Even though we are able to operate fairly freely when it comes to leadership races or big party events, the top tells us ‘hey guys, look right. You can ask “Why?”They’ll answer, “Just listen to what I have to say.” It’s true if I tell it so. This is not good.
Similar groups have existed throughout the history the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), but this seems to be the one that is making an impact.
Because of its influence, the party barons ruled Wednesday that formal faction members can vote however they like.
The four party leaders – almost certain to become the prime minister of the largest party in parliament as the leader – participated in a discussion with top members of the group, apparently hoping for support.
Although analysts think that the majority of members of this group will elect Taro Kono to be vaccine minister, they aren’t supporting any candidate.
Ohno is a supporter of Fumio Kini, former foreign minister. Fumio has also spoken about party reform and term limits.
After reforms in 1990s they were barred from funding candidates. This left only the party headquarters. Today they mainly compete for the cabinet and party positions.
Though Ohno said party elders can have useful experience, and factions can be helpful, voters tell him and others they’re increasingly distrustful of old-style politics, characterised by backroom deals, like the way Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was chosen last year.
According to the group, members must be proactive in winning over voters.
Arata Takebe (51-year-old Hokkaido lawmaker) said, “I hear that our communication is poor, and that we must do what the elders wish,” in a video posted on his website.
LDP doesn’t appeal if the members younger than them are not energetic. We have this group because of that.
These are not rebels. Ohno and Takebe are just two examples of second- or even third-generation politicians. Tatsuo Fukuda (54), is the grandson and son of two prime ministers.
Many of them have experience in corporate management, like Ohno who was a former researcher at Fujitsu and held a fellowship at an American university. Ohno stated that they have also grown up since the burst of Japan’s financial bubble.
The Younger Diet members are feeling like they have no work, haven’t been rewarded for their service, so they must be silent and follow the instructions. Tobias Harris was a senior fellow at The Center for American Progress.
Harris explained that younger politicians have leveraged the impending general election (which must be held before Nov. 28) to achieve change.
Harris said that the election provided them with an opportunity to use this opening to reduce factional control of the result.
Ohno hasn’t identified with the old party factions and hopes that his group will fulfill what he believes are broad voter expectations for a modern political system.
His statement was in reference to the Showa-era period (1926-1989) that corresponded with the reigning of Emperor Hirohito. Modernization is also possible.