Photo/Illutration Lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Abe faction observe a silent prayer for the former prime minister at a gathering in Tokyo on Sept. 19. (Takuya Isayama)

The largest faction in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is reeling from a flurry of scandals and a power vacuum following the death of its leader, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Some political insiders said the faction could end up splitting up.

The 97-member faction held a meeting in Tokyo on Sept. 19 in an effort to close the ranks.

The gathering opened with a 30-second silent prayer for Abe, who was gunned down in July in Nara.

“Our larger objective is to produce results by taking over the policies that Abe had championed,” Ryu Shionoya, acting head of the faction, said.

Abe’s death left the faction with no true leader. But the assassination also led to exposure of his relationship with the Unification Church, a religious group that has been accused of pressuring its followers to donate all of their money.

Abe’s suspected killer was from a family that was financially broken by the excessive donations made by his mother, a church follower.

Abe is believed to have been a key figure connecting the LDP and the church, which is now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

Some former LDP lawmakers have asserted that Abe made arrangements for church followers to vote for certain party candidates in national elections during his second stint as prime minister from 2012 to 2020.

In a party “check,” dozens of LDP lawmakers acknowledged their affiliation with the church. And 37 of them--the most among the LDP’s six factions--were with the Abe faction.

Among them were the LDP’s policy chief, Koichi Hagiuda, and former education minister Hakubun Shimomura.

A prevailing view within the party, according to a senior LDP official, is “the Unification Church issue is the Abe faction’s problem.”

Many LDP legislators said the method of the check was faulty.

Abe’s connection to the church was not addressed. And Hiroyuki Hosoda, the Lower House speaker and former head of the Abe faction, was also not required to report any ties because he no longer belongs to the LDP caucus of the lower chamber.

Hosoda has reportedly attended events held by organizations linked to the church.

Faction members are in constant fear that new and damaging revelations will emerge, according to a veteran aide to an Abe faction lawmaker.

Shionoya acknowledged at the gathering that faction members are being “targeted” in the church question.

Adding to their plight, Tokyo prosecutors have repeatedly questioned, on a voluntary basis, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in connection with bribery scandals related to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Mori chaired the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee before he was forced to step down in 2021 after making comments that insulted women.

He was also heavyweight of the Abe faction until he retired from politics in 2012.

How the Olympic scandal plays out could have implications for the faction’s political fortunes.

Large LDP factions have long swayed party politics based on the sheer weight of their numbers.

The Abe faction, for example, has produced four prime ministers since 2000--Mori, Junichiro Koizumi, Abe and Yasuo Fukuda.

But without an influential leader like Abe, the faction may be too large to stay united.

A senior faction member noted that Abe’s enormous political clout made it possible to keep such a large faction together.

A junior lawmaker in the faction said many members are unhappy about having to wait behind a long line of colleagues for a chance to land an influential post.

“Many have pent-up frustrations over personnel appointments,” the lawmaker said. “A faction with nearly 100 members is too large to control.”

The faction is expected to choose a new leader after Abe’s state funeral on Sept. 27.

But with no heir apparent, the process to select a new leader could fracture the faction.

“It is possible that the faction will break up after the funeral,” one mid-level faction member said.