The largest faction in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party said Friday that it has decided to disband, as a political funds scandal involving the group formerly led by the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has deepened public distrust in politics.

The decision came shortly after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged to dissolve the party's fourth-biggest faction that he led until December and former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai expressed an intention to disband his fifth-largest group.


The moves have been praised by some LDP members as bold reforms, but some pundits say they are simply a political performance by the ruling party, and they have urged Kishida to implement necessary measures to strengthen the surveillance of lawmakers' finances.

Earlier in the day, Kishida said the dissolution of the faction that he headed is aimed at restoring public trust amid the political funds scandal rattling the LDP, which has dominated Japan's politics and been in power for most of the period since 1955.

Ryu Shionoya (L) bows in apology at a news conference held at the headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party on Jan. 19, 2024. (Kyodo)

In the biggest faction, several junior members had told Ryu Shionoya, who is the de facto head, that the group, which contains about 100 of the around 370 LDP lawmakers, should be disbanded as soon as possible. The faction is alleged to have accumulated hundreds of millions of yen in slush funds.

"We have decided to dissolve the faction to our great dismay," Shionoya said at a press conference after an emergency meeting of the group, adding that most of its members agreed on the decision.

The faction, founded in 1979 by the late former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, 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.

The group has produced four premiers -- Yoshiro Mori, Junichiro Koizumi, Abe and Yasuo Fukuda -- since 2000, and during Koizumi's tenure of over five years through September 2006, the faction became the largest force in the LDP.

The LDP had previously dissolved its factions in the 1990s, only for its lawmakers to create new groups by the end of the decade. The factions have served mainly to help lawmakers secure campaigning funds and ministerial posts.

Toshihiro Nikai (C), a former secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, is pictured at a news conference in Tokyo on Jan. 19, 2024. (Kyodo)

Nikai, a heavyweight of the LDP, said at a press conference on Friday, "People naturally come together, so I want to keep interactions within the bounds of common sense," suggesting his faction's members may maintain communication after it has disbanded.

Kenta Izumi, chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters later in the day, "It will not be tolerated" if LDP lawmakers are "trying to evade responsibility by pinning the blame on their factions."

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

Kishida, meanwhile, 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 revenue from fundraising parties over many years. Public outrage has pushed approval ratings for Kishida's Cabinet down sharply.

Kishida, who quit his group 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.

So far, the panel has been considering proposing the revision of the political funds control law to toughen the penalties on offenders, LDP sources said, with others calling for the introduction of guilt by association between lawmakers and accountants.

The LDP is also eager to take disciplinary steps, such as suspension, against lawmakers of the Abe faction who received secret slush funds. The majority of group members are alleged to have obtained funds.

Other powerful factions, led by former Prime Minister Taro Aso and LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi, said they will discuss whether they will dissolve their groups after the interim report is released by the panel.

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 they said they did not indict executives of the three factions due to a lack of evidence, despite mounting criticism over the scandal.

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