Mainichi reported over the weekend that the Machimura faction — still unclear on who it should support as Fukuda Yasuo's successor, may be on the brink of splitting. The reason? As a result of having been the home of the past four prime ministers, the faction has too many power brokers jostling for control of the faction, with each preferring a different successor for Mr. Fukuda.
As noted previously, the Machimura faction is in some sense a microcosm of the LDP, divided among Koizumian structural reformers, cautious old-guard conservatives, HANA conservatives, and, as represented by Mr. Fukuda, pragmatic "quiet" reformers. Each group's power broker in the faction supports a different candidate for the leadership. Nakagawa Hidenao, who has claimed the mantle of the LDP's leading advocate for structural reform since stepping down as LDP secretary-general after Abe Shinzo reshuffled his cabinet in August 2008, has boosted Koike Yuriko, a member of the Machimura faction, and may be a contender in his own right (although his sordid past may still haunt him). Mori Yoshiro, the leading old-guard conservative and defender of Mr. Fukuda, has not only ridiculed Ms. Koike's prospects but tried — with little success — to stifle speculation about the post-Fukuda era. Mr. Abe, meanwhile, is happy to look outside the faction for a leader, and is Aso Taro's leading supporter in the Machimura faction.
On top of this, there's the question of Machimura Nobutaka, currently serving as chief cabinet secretary. Mainichi reports that there are concerns within the faction that if Mr. Machimura leaves the goernment after a reshuffle, he will be free to cause trouble within the faction and do battle with Mr. Nakagawa for control, competition that may force the faction to split as Mr. Nakagawa could leave to form his own faction. If Mr. Nakagawa were to leave the faction to form his own, it would be another indication that the (policy) content-free factions are giving way to new, more ideological and policy-oriented groupings that will jostle for control not just of the LDP's levers of power, but of its identity as a party.
The idea of the Machimura faction's crumbling under the weight of its heavyweights is intriguing. Are the limits of growth for LDP factions not the total number of members, but the number of members with experience in senior party and cabinet posts who can claim considerable personal followings independent on the faction?
And if the Machimura faction cannot keep its disparate pieces together, what does that say for the LDP as a whole?