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Power balance between Abe gov't and LDP shifting against PM post-election

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a news conference at his office in Tokyo on Nov. 1, 2017, after launching his fourth Cabinet. (Mainichi)

In spite of its sweeping general election victory, some in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are dissatisfied with party leader and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over his political tactics and handling of the government.

The prime minister's office had initially demanded that the special Diet session that began on Nov. 1 last just eight days, leaving almost no time for substantial debate between ruling and opposition parties. The LDP, however, overturned that policy and ended up agreeing to a 39-day session.

The move spotlights the shifting power balance between the LDP and Abe who, empowered by high Cabinet approval ratings, had previously been able to force his will on the party.

"It was good that we've secured sufficient time for Diet deliberations. We have heard various opinions about the Abe administration during the election campaign, and we must not escape from that reality," Nobuteru Ishihara, formerly minister in charge of economic revitalization, told a Nov. 2 meeting of his LDP faction. Fumio Kishida, chairman of the LDP's Policy Research Council, also remarked during a meeting of his own faction, "If we let the public down now, the backlash would be immeasurable."

The LDP won 284 seats in the 465-seat House of Representatives in the Oct. 22 poll, in which the "party garnered the largest number of votes" of all the past three general elections, Prime Minister Abe boasted to reporters on Nov. 1. The party membership's response to the sweeping victory, however, was subdued. Members understood that the strong showing was amplified by a fractured opposition, and that public anger over Prime Minister Abe's cronyism scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution continued to smolder.

The LDP was quick to push back against the prime minister's office's initial plan to respond to opposition questions over the favoritism scandals by holding an out-of-session Diet meeting after the special session closes, saying, "Such a move could spark criticism that the prime minister is running away from the issue." Party members are also frustrated with the prime minister's office's response to the Moritomo and Kake scandals, which they believe are solely attributable to Abe himself.

LDP Diet affairs chief Hiroshi Moriyama said on Nov. 1, "We will fulfill our accountability to the public through the Diet."

Regarding the move to shave off time allocated to opposition party questions in the lower house, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended the prime minister's office's position, saying, "It would be reasonable from the public's viewpoint to set the time distributions in proportion to the number of seats held by parties in the chamber."

Former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba blasted the move during a general meeting of his party faction on Nov. 2, saying that it "wouldn't be fair" unless the time spent on advance consultations between the government and ruling parties is discounted. "Talk of setting time distributions in proportion to seat distribution is illogical."

Party members are also discontented with Prime Minister Abe's dominance of the policy-making processes. LDP Chief Deputy Secretary-General Shinjiro Koizumi rapped Abe's recent request that the business community provide 300 billion yen for the government's free preschool education policy, telling reporters on Nov. 1, "There were absolutely no discussions (about the issue) within the LDP. If that's the way things stand, there's no need to have a party."

Ichiro Aisawa, former chairman of the lower house Committee on Rules and Administration, said during a meeting of former party president Sadakazu Tanigaki's faction, "A voter told me during the campaign, 'It feels awkward to vote for you, because that would mean I'm in support of Prime Minister Abe staying in power.' It's necessary to guarantee well-balanced intraparty debate while facing up to Abe's predominance."

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