Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mr. Aso and the Fukuda headwind

The official campaign period for the LDP presidential election begins today, and the situation is extremely fluid due to the entrance of Fukuda Yasuo into the race, which Mainichi describes as having attracted an instant majority of Diet members thanks to support of the Machimura faction (80 members total) and some members in the Koga (which totals 46 members), Tanigaki (15), and Yamasaki (39) factions. [NB: he doesn't have the total support of those factions, but I'm including the numbers to give their comparative weights.]

As AC wrote commenting on an earlier post, the fervent opposition to Mr. Aso that in the past served to present a significant obstacle to his succeeding Mr. Abe has coalesced, despite Mr. Aso's best efforts to make himself appear as the inevitable successor. Mr. Aso's machinations since the election, including his role in picking the new cabinet, firing Mr. Endo, and otherwise making it clear — as I argued before — that the second Abe cabinet was a de facto Aso-Yosano cabinet, appear to have backfired. (In retrospect, perhaps Mr. Aso was responsible for including Mr. Endo in the first place as a kind of time bomb — or is that too cynical?) He is being held responsible for the chaos that has beset the LDP, not to mention being judged as insensitive to the hospitalized Mr. Abe.

Mr. Fukuda, as the weightiest of the other LDP candidates to enter the race, naturally is benefiting from pent-up opposition to Mr. Aso; he has even gained the support of Koizumi Junichiro, who has swallowed his resentment for Mr. Fukuda, which stems from a long-standing personal grudge. Now that's a broad foundation for victory: Mr. Fukuda already has Mr. Mori pushing hard for him, and now Mr. Koizumi says he "stands in the vanguard" in supporting his candidacy. Apparently Mr. Fukuda's candidacy has even led Mr. Tanigaki to reconsider his candidacy.

Sankei warns, however, that "there is deep-seated support for Mr. Aso among members in various factions, and he intends to work across factions to build a majority."

Also in Mr. Aso's favor is that twelve prefectural chapters have already pledged their support to him (Ed. - ...And received an official Aso Taro tote bag full of his favorite manga), including his home prefecture of Fukuoka, leaving thirty-five prefectural chapters yet to decide, at least six of which will be holding an election among party members to decide the chapter's vote. A survey of the prefectural chapters that asked about what issue they most want the new party president to tackle provides some clue to how they might vote. Given one choice, twenty-six chapters said that the "regional disparity" problem is the number issue they want the government to tackle, while Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures indicated that "foreign and security policy" ranks highest for them. Will the restive regions bow to the judgment of party central, or will they act independently on the basis of which candidate addresses their concerns?

Given that intraparty turmoil is the major consequence of the LDP's July defeat, I suspect it may be the latter; Fukuda hasn't sewed up the premiership yet. He remains the safe choice, a reassuring presence who seems to be the man who can bring calm to intra- and inter-party relations and relations with the US that were roiled as Mr. Abe came crashing down. But would a Fukuda premiership do anything more than paper over the wounds that have been painfully exposed over the past year?

I think that there are centrifugal forces at work on the LDP that neither Mr. Aso nor Mr. Fukuda will be able to overcome. I think Mr. Aso, however, is that kind of man who will try to leave his stamp on the party one way or the other, leaving others to take it or leave it. Mr. Fukuda, meanwhile, would probably mean a return to the mythical LDP past: "competent" rule and the guiding hand of the factions, until the next series of scandals that finally snaps the public's trust. Mr. Fukuda is, in short, is little more than a temporary solution to the party's problems.

Maybe the only way to read this situation is Amaki Naoto's: "The LDP is finished."

1 comment:

Bryce said...

I wonder what's worse; "more of the same" or "temporary solution". It's a bit of a Hobson's choice for the LDP, and I don't really see one candidate as being better than the other. I have a soft spot for Fukuda. I got to interview him in December and he's a nice guy, despite his reticence in front of the cameras. Not that I agreed with the policy, but I always thought he was competent handing the SDF deployment legislation under Koizumi. I think he's what the LDP needs at the moment: someone who can competently clean up the mess for the next guy to screw up.