Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister. (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)

These Are the Groups Deciding Whether Japan's Abe Stays or Goes

(Bloomberg) -- With Shinzo Abe’s support battered by a series of scandals, his survival as Japan’s prime minister increasingly depends on his ability to keep the factions within his ruling Liberal Democratic Party pacified.

The groups -- each with its own leader and agenda -- are jostling for influence ahead of a party election in September that will determine whether Abe gets a third term as LDP president and a chance to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. Whoever wins the poll can become premier without a general election and the country’s fragmented opposition would be unlikely to pose a significant challenge in any subsequent vote.

Faction ties can help provide the necessary nominations from at least 20 of the LDP’s 405 lawmakers. Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, 61, will likely call on the bloc he controls if he decides as expected to challenge Abe, while not belonging to a faction is one of several reasons why Shinjiro Koizumi, 37 -- the popular son of a former prime minister -- might sit things out this time.

A public opinion poll published Sunday by Kyodo News found that 26.6 percent of respondents wanted Koizumi to take over as LDP leader, while 24.7 percent favored Ishiba. Abe was third, with 21 percent.

Here’s a closer look at the groups that will determine Abe’s fate:

1. Abe-Hosoda (94 lawmakers)

Abe, 63, belongs to the largest faction, a conservative group founded in 1979 on principles of good governance and officially led by ex-Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda. The bloc also produced Abe’s mentor, Junichiro Koizumi. Any change in premier would raise questions about how long Japan might continue with its ultra-easy monetary policy and whether it will go ahead with a planned increase in the consumption tax next year.

2. Aso (59 lawmakers)

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso controls the second-biggest faction. A former prime minister who has served under Abe since 2012, Aso has pledged to keep supporting the premier and his fight against deflation. Those ties help explain why the 77-year-old has been able to withstand resignation calls over the ministry’s involvement in recent scandals and his unsympathetic comments about a sexual harassment case.

3. Takeshita (55 lawmakers)

Wataru Takeshita’s faction dominated the LDP in the late 1980s and early 1990s under his elder brother, but its strength has since faded. Takeshita, 71, hasn’t made clear whom he plans to back in the September election, but last month told the Sankei newspaper he favored someone who would tackle Japan’s bloated national debt.

4. Kishida (47 lawmakers)

Fumio Kishida, 60, who was lauded by Abe last year as a potential future leader, heads the party’s oldest faction, which was formed in 1957. The former foreign minister left the cabinet last year to take a party role, putting him in position to challenge Abe. The group is relatively dovish on defense and Kishida has said he saw no need to change the pacifist Article 9 of the national constitution, a policy favored by Abe. He has also said fiscal reconstruction should be taken more seriously.

5. Nikai (44 lawmakers)

Headed by LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, the party’s fifth-largest faction was founded in 1999. Once a home for the party’s right wing, its image has changed considerably under Nikai, 79, who is known for his friendly ties with China.

6. Ishiba (20 lawmakers)

Ishiba, the former defense minister, is among those expected to throw their hats in the ring for leader. Ishiba has expressed concern about rushing to change the constitution and urged the government to maintain its target of reaching a primary balance surplus by 2020.

7. Ishihara (12 lawmakers)

Nobuteru Ishihara -- the 61-year-old son of controversial former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara -- said at a fundraising party attended by Abe this month that the prime minister’s relations with foreign leaders were benefiting Japan, the Sankei newspaper reported, hinting that he would support the premier in September.

8. Independents/Others (74 lawmakers)

A number of smaller groups and informal alliances exist among other lawmakers, including Shinjiro Koizumi and Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda, 57. While none of the groups are particularly strong, their votes may be crucial in a close leadership race. Contenders need a majority of votes from parliament and regional party members to win.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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