Top officials of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have decided to exclude rank and file members from the vote for the party's new president, who will succeed Shinzo Abe as Japan's prime minister. Voting in the election will be limited to Diet members and delegates from the party's local chapters.
Over one-third -- or 145 -- of LDP Diet members and 403 LDP regional assembly members had signed a petition requesting that the right to vote for the LDP leadership be opened up to the broader LDP membership. However, party executives turned down the request, saying they "can't afford to create a political vacuum."
The LDP presidential election is effectively a vote to select the prime minister. It is only natural to pursue the more democratic method of selection. Choosing the prime minister through an open process will strengthen the foundations of the new LDP president, which will give him a stronger unifying force.
Fighting the novel coronavirus is of the utmost urgency. That is why when Abe announced his resignation, he also announced additional coronavirus countermeasures, and clearly stated that he would fulfill his responsibilities until the next prime minister was appointed.
Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi has said that the party executives' explanation that opening up the LDP presidential election to the party's rank and file would create a political vacuum is "a complete lie."
Party executives say that an election that would be open to all party members would take about two months. However, if numerous prefectural party chapters conduct preliminary polling beforehand to decide who to vote for, then why can't the election be held on a nationwide scale?
By not conducting an all-party-member election, the weight of regional votes will dip dramatically. This will work against one of the contenders, former Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, who won a large number of regional votes in past LDP leadership elections. It can't be helped if the election method is seen as being deliberately favorable toward certain party factions.
On Sept. 1, Ishiba and the party's policy chief Fumio Kishida announced that they were running for the party's presidency. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga will apparently be announcing his candidacy on Sept. 2.
However, major alliances such as the Hosoda faction, the party's largest bloc and the one to which Abe originally belonged, and the Aso faction, the party's second largest alliance, have rushed to put their weight behind Suga. His advantage is unwavering.
It is bizarre that factions would throw their support merely based on alliances behind someone who has not even announced his candidacy, or has made any policy agreements.
The government's novel coronavirus countermeasures became the target of much criticism as they clearly exposed the gap between the government's and the public's feelings toward the pandemic. That being the case, the ruling party should be listening to the voices of rank and file party members, who are closer to the public, through the LDP leadership election. It is perhaps against a backdrop of this sense of crisis that young party members, among others, sought to have the election include all party members.
If the LDP does not give its attention to the distance between itself and the public, and goes ahead with an election method that does not fully consider the voices of regional areas, it will not gain the confidence of the public.