Point of view of a PLD member on the presidential election of the PLD
As a Japanese citizen, one is not only entitled to vote in all local and national elections. Any citizen can also become a member of a Japanese political party.
It is true that 99% of Japanese nationals are born to a Japanese parent and their birth is registered in their family’s local office. But there is another route to Japanese citizenship for those, like me, who are born to non-Japanese parents. This path goes through a naturalization process.
Shortly after the formal approval of my application for Japanese naturalization, I also joined the Liberal Democratic Party (“LDP”).
Why join a party? Under the Japanese constitution, the Prime Minister is elected by the National Diet and not directly by the people. The party that can control the majority in the Diet will see its leader become Prime Minister.
In other words, to get an idea of who becomes the leader of Japan, you need to join ー then vote ー for the leader of a political party and then vote in every party and national election.
The LDP currently has over a million grassroots members, average Japanese citizens who are not elected politicians. Each of these members has the opportunity to vote for the president of the LDP.
To be clear, not every individual vote counts equally in an LDP party election. PLD members in elected positions have a higher vote than grassroots members. For the next presidential election on September 29, the 383 members of the Diet of the PLD ー 108 from the House of Councilors (“Upper House”) and 275 from the House of Representatives (“Lower House”) ー each obtain 1 vote. And the 1 million individual party members will be allocated 383 votes to share, adjusted according to population, across the 47 prefectural chapters of the LDP.
The candidates are defined
Four candidates now officially vying for the leadership position, in order of their declaration, Fumio Kishida, Sanae Takaichi, Taro Kono and Seiko Noda, have launched a 12-day campaign to secure the votes of 382 other PLD members as well. than the 47 prefectural chapters of the LDP.
Some of the candidates’ policies were announced before the official start of the campaign.
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In a high-profile campaign with daily debate and television coverage, these policies will continue to be adjusted by candidates to appeal to different interest groups as the campaign continues until the September 29 election. Two examples include Kono’s announcement that he now supports same-sex marriage and Kishida’s suggestion that he now supports different last names.
Since 1955, when a merger of the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party led to the formation of the Liberal Democratic Party, there has been within the party. Typically, these are groups of Diet members who align themselves under the leadership of a top LDP leader who was able to collect political donations and distribute them directly to his faction members ahead of the elections.
Faction leaders wielded strong influence over faction members and could generally provide all members’ votes when selecting the LDP chairman. Those votes were the subject of behind-the-scenes negotiations between candidates and faction leaders as to how many cabinet seats or leadership positions in the LDP party a faction would get if it handed over its bloc to an elected candidate.
There are seven major factions in the PLD today. Of the LDP Diet members themselves, 321 of the 383 LDP Diet members are faction members. The other 62 members of the Diet are not affiliated.
Among the candidates for this leadership election, Fumio Kishida leads his own faction, Taro Kono is a member of the Taro Aso faction, while Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda are independent.
The influence of factions has eroded over the past 25 years, as funding scandals in the past have led to legal restrictions on political donations. This shifted the source of large corporate and union donations to party factions and directed national government funding to political parties. At the same time, the distribution of political funds has shifted from faction leaders to the leadership of the LDP party, changing the power equation of factions.
The decline in the role of factions will take a new step in this election. All PLD factions, except the one led by Kishida, allow their Diet members to vote as they see fit, instead of forcing them to participate as a faction voting bloc.
This has a major impact on how candidates will campaign. The impact will also extend to how the next cabinet is formed and the new LDP leadership chosen after the elections.
A very public party campaign
In previous elections, LDP presidential candidates focused heavily on negotiations with party factions and appeals to prefectural sections. This election will be much more transparent, and due to the pandemic, it will be fully online and open to the public.
After making their opening presentations at a press conference on September 17, the candidates then held an online question-and-answer session with the younger members of the prefecture chapter on September 20. Then, from September 23-26, four days of policy-oriented online discussions are scheduled. These events are aimed at grassroots LDP members and the public, and complemented by numerous television appearances, some with all of the contestants together, for maximum public exposure.
The other side of the campaign is each candidate’s appeal to individual Diet members. This part of the campaign will be heavily targeted to convince their colleagues in the PLD to know who is best able to help them get re-elected. There is a national general election for members of the Lower House scheduled for a few weeks after the LDP leadership election, and another general election for members of the Upper House of the Diet to be held in the summer. 2022.
Almost half of all members of the lower house of the LDP have been elected 3 times or less. These members entered politics during massive electoral victories led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Many young members of the Lower House are calculating how voters in their individual constituencies will react to a new LDP leader, and which photo of the candidate will help or hurt their own chances of re-election. Traditionally, the photo of the LDP leader is next to the image of the party candidate on posters for the upcoming general election campaign.
Before voting as a member of the LDP party, I will assess the candidates based on the following criteria that I consider to be the most important in this election:
- “Big tent leader”: an ability to lead the LDP “big tent” (insert link to my article), making the right compromises on political priorities between the more traditional / conservative and compassionate / liberal groups, to keep the most critical commitments.
- “Great Communicator”: a set of leadership skills that is seldom emphasized in Japanese politics. Using any means available, including social media tools, confidently and effectively communicate to the nation not only what you are doing, but why with frequent updates.
- “Great team builder”: another leadership skill rarely emphasized in Japanese politics. The best leaders in the world, whether political or business, surround themselves with the best available talent in order to acquire diverse knowledge and experience. The PLD has an incredible advantage over opposition parties in that it can develop talent by exposing them to roles of increasing responsibility in cabinet, government and party. In the past, Cabinets were more focused on the queue (which is next) and faction tradeoffs. This time around, the PLD chairman should be able to attract and place the best people available in the most critical roles, regardless of faction, age or gender.
- “World leader”: much more than in the past, by continuing the extraordinary work of Abe Shinzo to exercise positive Japanese leadership in the Indo-Pacific region and in a troubled world. There has never been a time when Japan’s neighbors and allies have sought more positive Japanese leadership.
So how do the candidates measure up as the campaign kicks off?
As you can see, I still have questions about each of the candidates which I will resolve before I vote. Each candidate has very clear weaknesses. Each has obvious strengths.
Kishida is more likely to be successful indoors than outdoors. Kono is more likely to be viewed positively abroad than within his own party. Noda will be seen as the most “compassionate” candidate on social issues but weak elsewhere. And Takaichi must overcome a “hawkish” image imposed by the media and a lack of familiarity with the Japanese voter.
Everyone has areas where they need to grow in the job if they are to be successful.
Predict election outcome
Noda’s last-minute entry adds to the likelihood that none of the four candidates will win a majority in the first round of voting.
The major changes that can be expected in round 2: the first two vote totals in round 1 will progress. During this second round, the 47 prefectural chapters of the LDP will have only one vote each (instead of sharing 383 votes as in the first round).
In addition, PLD base members will not vote in the second round. Instead, the prefectural chapters will in turn vote according to the decision of the chapter heads. Although some Chapters undertake to do so, they are not required to choose the candidate who received the most votes from members. A Round 2 race, and any Round 3 race that may take place, defers the election to senior LDP officials and Diet members for decision.
Prime Minister prepares for next general election
Whoever is elected president of the PLD on September 29 will become the next Prime Minister of Japan during a special session of the Diet currently scheduled for October 4. The PLD holds the majority in the lower house, so the elevation of the new PLD president to first minister rank is a given. The special session of the Diet by custom includes a political speech by the new Prime Minister, followed by a few interrogations over the course of about a week.
Once these formalities have been completed, the new Prime Minister will then dissolve the Diet and announce the date of a national election for the 435 seats in the Lower House.
Whether he or she remains prime minister for more than a few weeks depends on whether the LDP again controls the majority of seats in this lower house following the general elections which will take place in November.
Author: Edo Naito