Thursday, September 13, 2007

Two horse race

Nukaga Fukushiro, finance minister and member of the Tsushima faction, the LDP's second-largest, has reportedly abandoned plans to run in the party presidential election, due to pressure from his own faction. This means, of course, that Mr. Fukuda is the undisputed "anybody-but-Aso" candidate — and now the undisputed front runner, having sewed up the support of the party's elders at the head of the major factions.

The outlook is not brilliant for Mr. Aso. As his ally, Hatoyama Kunio, the justice minister, said, "It's extremely tough. Each faction has one after the other come forward to support Mr. Fukuda. But is the number of factions good enough to decide the matter?" It seems that Mr. Aso will have no choice but to launch an "insurgency" in the regions in the hope of highlighting the division in the party between Tokyo and the prefectures and presenting himself as the man who is best prepared to address the concerns of the prefectural party chapters.

Mr. Aso has already begun to take this tack. Asahi reports that at the press conference scheduled for this afternoon he will "stress the regions."

But even that may not be enough. I don't think the LDP is looking to Mr. Fukuda to win a general election, so even if Mr. Aso can convincingly present himself as someone who can appeal to voters around the country, it may not matter. He is a divisive figure at a time that the party elders are craving stability and unity.

The opposition might be looking for a snap election — the DPJ, SDPJ, and PNP have criticized the rush to support Mr. Fukuda as symbolic of the return of old-style LDP faction rule — but I think the LDP is just trying to get through the campaign and the Diet session in one piece. An interesting question is what Mr. Aso will do if and when he loses this campaign. Will he be resentful, and will he take it out on the LDP?

9 comments:

JanneM said...

In a way, a divisive, controversial (he seems unabashedly hardline on just about everything) would probably hasten the reformation of LDP by way of fast, complete disintegration. Any organization - political or commercial - can really only find the will to really reform when faced with ruin, and that opportunity would come swifter and surer with Aso than Fukuda.

One scenario is a phoenix-like immolation and rebirth with Aso, a slow decline into into irrelevancy with a series of "steady hand" leaders beginning with Fukuda. Of course, another Aso scenario could be a decidely non-phoenix like dramatic crash with no rebirth forthcoming.

AC said...

I think you mean Hatoyama Kunio, not Yukio, the DPJ SecGen.

FWIW, I'm pretty sure that the LDP would fare far better contesting an election under Fukuda than it would under Aso. Whereas Fukuda projects a reassuring image of stability and experience, which might contrast nicely with Ozawa's recent imperiousness, Aso is a gaffe machine whose "popularity" is almost entirely a function of his name recognition. Witness the Alzheimer's comment and his brainless remark that he knew Abe was going to step down several days ahead of the announcement. Instead of sharing that information with anyone else in the party in an effort to minimize the fallout, however, he decided to keep it secret and use it to his own advantage in a compressed LDP presidential race. And not only was he selfish enough to put his own interests ahead of the party, he was dumb enough to blurt that fact out to everyone when he should have just kept this mouth shut.

The idea that someone so lacking in judgment and common sense would be capable of facing down Ozawa in the Diet and in an election is, to me, laughable. It remains to be seen how Fukuda will hold up, but I've got to believe that Aso would be an even worse leader than Abe turned out to be. At least with Abe, people could be forgiven for having hopes for him. With Aso, no one has any excuses.

Rather than a two-horse race, we've got one horse and a horse's ass.

Japan Observer said...

AC,

Thank you for the correction — and for your final comment. I'm certainly no fan of Aso's, and don't think his premiership would be particularly good for the LDP or Japan.

But the idea of Fukuda's being the party's savior is far-fetched. The best I think the LDP can hope for is that he allows the party some time to catch its breath and for the moment stop being Ozawa's punching bag (and maybe even hit back). In the meantime, they better get to work on finding that rare leader who can match the right ideas with pitch-perfect presentation.

AC said...

No, Fukuda is not cut out for the role of savior. I see him more as an EMT -- stop the bleeding, buy the patient some time, and above all don't make things worse.

The LDP's best approach vis-a-vis the DPJ is, in my opinion, to give Ozawa the rope with which to hang himself. Ozawa is a destroyer who has wrecked every political party he has ever been associated with, and he has laready overplayed his hand since the July 29 election.

Bryce said...

According to ac, Ozawa " has laready overplayed his hand since the July 29 election."

How so? I think he has been quite successful. He has annunciated a cause that he has always fostered (deployment under U.N. command) and to some extent the recent news that the OEF tankers may be supplying fuel to the war effort in Iraq may well justify his interpretation of their purpose. And despite polls cited in the post above this one, there was a Yomiuri poll a couple of days ago claiming that the public were against having the floating fuel tanks in Afghanistan.

In any case, Fukuda may be count on the fact that the population, despite the recent election, voted against Abe, not for the DPJ. The polling figures showed both parties were roughly equal. There are a hell of a lot (roughly 30-40 percent) of swing voters out there, so if Fukuda can posit himself as someone who can "fix" the mess that has been created and then hand the reins over to a more charismatic figure, the DPJ might still have a fight on their hands at the next election.

But yes, to choose Aso would invite disaster.

AC said...

According to ac, Ozawa " has laready overplayed his hand since the July 29 election."

How so?
>>>

First, there was his use of the US Ambassador as a prop to be publicly humiliated. Ozawa repeatedly refused to meet with the ambassador, then after being publicly called out agreed but on condition that the entire meeting be open to the press. When the meeting finally took place, Ozawa showed up late and forced the ambassador to just stand there and wait while the TV cameras were rolling, demonstrating for a TV audience exactly who's "in charge." That's something I would expect from Hugo Chavez, not the leader of a party hoping to take control in a developed country, let alone an ally. That kind of breach of diplomatic etiquette is just not done, and I seriously doubt the US will forget the incident. Ozawa certainly doesn't have to do what the US wants, but what he did was way over the line (and unwise as well).

And then Ozawa tried to do the same thing to Abe. Again, he was under no obligation to give in to Abe's wishes, but I think it's over the line to try to use the country's prime minister as a prop to be publicly humiliated.

As far as the Antiterrorism Law goes, Ozawa has claimed that the DPJ victory in the July Upper House election was an expression of popular will against the mission. Honestly, I don't think that one voter in a hundred made their decision on that issue; the election was a rejection of Abe, plain and simple, and it's a major stretch to view the vote as a referendum on the Antiterrorism Law.

By contrast, the 2005 Lower House election was, with no hyperbole, a referendum on Koizumi's plan for postal privatization, and the public overwhelmingly backed it. The DPJ, however, has introduced a bill to scrap that process. What are we to conclude other than that the DPJ isn't really interested in the "popular will" at all?

Bryce said...

As was pointed out on this blog, Schieffer's behaviour prior to his meeting Ozawa had all the grace and diplomatic nuance of a spoilt child. It also tends to be customary of American diplomats yo not foster relations with opposition parties until there is some sort of "crisis" due to an unanticipated election result. No wonder Ozawa didn't want to meet Schiffer, and no wonder O gave S the cold shoulder when he did front up.

I take it you're more comfortable with American democracy, ac, because you don't seem to know much about the functioning of standard parliamentary systems where it is hardly unusual for the leader of the opposition to use the prime minister as a "prop to be humiliated." In fact, it is unusual for this *not* to be the case. Without an effective opposition this may not have happened too often in Japan in the past, but now that the Japanese system is exhibiting characteristics of a two party system, you'd better get used to it fast, because it is going to happen more often. I'm touched that you think Abe should have some sort of four-year right not to have his feelings hurt, but those are simply not the rules now. In mature parliamentary systems you don't (and shouldn't) hear statements like "rally round the flag" or "I didn't vote for him, but he's my prime minister". Political sniping is a constant.

As for the last two paragraphs of your comment, again, most political victories have more to do with the fact that the other party "lost" than any great effort by the winners. As far as I know this hasn't stopped any victorious party in Japan or elsewhere to proclaim that they have a mandate for their policies.

AC said...

"you don't seem to know much about the functioning of standard parliamentary systems"

I'm not sure what you what you mean by "standard," but I know plenty well how things work in Nagatacho. Ozawa is dialing it down right now, but the almost universal sentiment there a week ago with regard to him was 「調子に乗っている」.

Have a nice weekend.

Anonymous said...

Bryce as usual with his deeper knowledge of Japanese politics wins the argument over ac.