After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's continued presidency in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) became final without a vote, he went out of his way to give the impression that the outcome was valid, and represented a largely monolithic will of LDP members.
"I am in the midst of fulfilling the promises I made in the general election nine months ago," Abe told reporters, "and the result is that many lawmakers wanted to unite and keep going forward as we have."
Aware of criticism that has been voiced toward his uncontested victory, Abe argued that because only nine months had passed since the December 2014 general election in which the LDP and Komeito coalition won over two-thirds of the House of Representatives seats, there was no need to select a new LDP chief at this point.
Behind the scenes, however, not all LDP members agreed with Abe's no-vote reinstatement. Referring to the controversial security bills currently under deliberation in the House of Councillors, LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki told a press conference on Sept. 8, "We are in the midst of debating important issues in the Diet. The prime minister is leading that effort, which I think led to (his uncontested re-election)." Tanigaki, however, also hinted that some within the party may have been dissatisfied that no vote took place. "I'm sure there were party members who wanted to cast their vote. That's why we have to think about how to accommodate those people."
As if to keep the prime minister's office in check, Reconstruction Minister Wataru Takeshita said, "I felt that we should've had a party leadership election, if possible. Just because there was no vote, it doesn't mean all party members were in agreement."
Abe and his close associates pushed for a no-vote re-election so that they could suppress intra-party discontent and give the impression that the party gave its unified support for the prime minister. The ongoing Diet session has been extended until Sept. 27, just days before Abe's current LDP presidential term expires. Holding a party leadership election in the midst of a Diet session made it difficult for other party members to prepare their candidacy. In addition, the re-election went unchallenged at least partly due to a meticulous strategy executed by those close to Abe in quashing the possibility of former LDP General Council chair Seiko Noda running in the race.
Noda has become close to other party members in a legislators' group on social security and through other groups, and those are the only connections she can rely on for support, because she does not belong to any factions. However, those who Noda approached for support in her possible candidacy received phone calls from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to the effect of, "Please support the prime minister." An LDP source revealed that LDP members were pressured in this way, telling the Mainichi Shimbun, "A call from the chief Cabinet secretary is enough to send a message."
A party member close to Noda, meanwhile, said, "The prime minister should be the equivalent of a grand champion (in sumo), but he refused to wrestle fair and square. It was like watching a grand champion pick on a lower-ranking wrestler."
Even if voting had taken place, Abe would have won by a landslide. But there was a chance that if Noda were to capture more votes than predicted, the existence of latent discontent within the party would be exposed. The prime minister's office thus moved to eliminate any and all such possibilities.
Describing the approach that the prime minister's office took toward the election, a senior LDP official said, "When they identified someone who might endorse Noda, they went and tore them away. They did this over and over. It was like a witch hunt."
For the official, the event has planted the seeds of future trouble. "The administration's base may be solid for now, but it's the little things like this that can bring down an administration."