I have a few words over at Tokyo Review regarding the LDP leadership race. In addition to supplementary data and figures (see below), I have a few extra words about who is not running.
Ishiba was apparently lining up the support of Nikai (47 members) at one point to add to his own 16-member faction. While broadly popular, Ishiba has lost all four times he has run (2008, 2012, 2018, 2020). He may be evaluating whether his influence on the last three races where his opponent has benefitted from strong anti-Ishiba sentiment within LDP parliamentarians. One of the major reasons for Suga’s victory last year was the ‘anyone-but-Ishiba’ movement engineered by Nikai Toshihiro where the four largest factions uniformly backed Suga, making his triumph a fait accompli. He may have gotten the hint that his party simply does not want him. He has added his voice to those supporting Kono’s appointment as the candidate most likely to protect the LDP current House of Representatives domination. Whether that will galvanize the faction heads to oppose Kono even more, or bring Kono support from Ishiba’s supporters in the party—especially among the faction-less—remains to be seen, especially now that Noda Seiko has entered the race.
Koizumi continues to bide his time and recently publicly backed Suga and looks likely to back Kono. Koizumi has enjoyed the brand enhancement that has come with the notable progress made by the Suga Cabinet on Japan’s more aggressive climate change commitments. If Kono were to win, Koizumi likely gets a cabinet promotion. This will give him further opportunities to enhance this brand as well as get more experience managing a more prominent and difficult portfolio to fend off criticism that he is more substance than style.
An Abe third coming has certainly been rumoured in Nagatachō, but the man himself has said little. Abe is instead engaged in a covert intra-party struggle with Secretary General Nikai Toshihiro over control over party funding, top party executive posts, and China policy. Ultimately, Abe may well be satisfied with exercising influence behind the scenes within the party for years to come, much as his grandfather Kishi Nobusuke did after he was deposed during the 1960 Mutual Security Treaty crisis. Abe is backing ideological fellow traveller Takaichi in this race, although if she does not make it to a second round run-off, Abe is likely to back Kishida as the candidate most likely to protect his legacy and preserve his influence going forward—especially as Kishida will be sure to reduce the influence of intra-party rival Nikai.
Data and Figures
Updated figures with polls only from September. In the first two graphs the vertical dotted line signifies the point when polls started to ask respondents about their support for official candidates only.