June 21, 2024

Japan PM Kishida vows to disband LDP faction amid funds scandal

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged Friday to disband the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s fourth-largest faction that he led until last month, in order to restore public trust amid a deepening political funds scandal.

In a sign of a possible larger impending shake-up of the party’s system of factions, former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, who heads the fifth-biggest intraparty force, said shortly afterward at a press conference that he intends to dissolve his group and that the proposal was accepted by its members.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at his office in Tokyo on Jan. 19, 2024. (Kyodo)

In the party’s largest faction formerly led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, several junior members told Ryu Shionoya, who is the de facto head, that the group with nearly 100 members should be disbanded as soon as possible.

The faction once led by Abe has played a crucial role in decision-making processes within the party, including the selection of the party’s leader, who typically becomes prime minister.

In its history, the LDP, which has dominated Japanese politics for most of the period since 1955, has previously dissolved its factions, but its lawmakers then created groups again. The factions have served mainly to help lawmakers obtain campaigning funds and ministerial posts.

Kishida also said Friday that the LDP needs to come up with new rules on how to properly manage its policy study groups.

The LDP has come under intense scrutiny over the fundraising scandal, with the Abe faction suspected of failing to report hundreds of millions of yen in revenue from fundraising parties over many years. Public outrage has pushed approval ratings for Kishida’s Cabinet down sharply.

Kishida, who quit his faction in response to the scandal, told reporters Friday that the public views the factions with “skeptical eyes.”

He launched an internal reform panel earlier this month to establish rules to enhance the transparency of funds raised by the LDP groups, promising to compile an interim report next week.

On Friday, prosecutors indicted a number of accountants and lawmakers from three factions, including Kishida’s group, on suspicion of failing to report political funds.

But the prosecutors are unlikely to build criminal cases against executives of the factions, sources close to the matter said.

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