Sunday, January 20, 2008

Is the LDP doomed?

MTC makes the bold prediction that the LDP "faces annihilation" in the next general election.

I'm inclined to agree, simply because it seems that the LDP has finally exhausted the patience of the Japanese people — and the members of the LDP seem more interested in dividing into warring ideological camps than in making good policy in advance of a general election. The party elders seem equally aware of the peril facing the LDP. Not surprisingly, over the weekend both Foreign Minister Komura and former prime minister Mori insisted that there is no hurry to hold a general election, with Mr. Komura suggesting that the government should wait until the end of the term (i.e., September 2009) before dissolving the House of Representatives and holding a election.

Will the ideologues, I wonder, permit the government to wait that long before going to the people? Will 2008 be the year of the Nakagawa no ran?

Meanwhile, the gasoline tax issue is shaping up to be a massive boon for the opposition, not least because it will make it harder for Mr. Fukuda and the LDP to campaign on behalf of consumers and urban Japan more generally. That's what I conclude from a meeting at the Kantei with the National Governors Association, in which the governors, led by NGA Chairman Aso Wataru of Fukuoka (no relation to Taro, who is also from Fukuoka), informed the government that they support the extension of the "temporary" gasoline tax. (It's unclear from this Sankei article about the meeting whether the governors are unanimous in support of the tax extension.) The issue is increasingly shaping up to be a battle of consumers and gas-dependent producers versus regions hungry for infrastructure projects funded by the tax. It seems obvious to me which side is the better bet both in the short term, in a general election, and over the long term as the LDP and the DPJ vie for dominance.

The DPJ is set to get as much mileage out of the gasoline tax issue as possible (pun intended), and unlike in the debate over the refueling mission, the LDP may not be able to win the match by using the HR supermajority. A recent Mainichi poll found that even as 46% of respondents said they approved of the government's use of the supermajority on the refueling issue (to 41% who did not approve), 51% said they don't think it should be used for future issues (compared to only 38% who approve of its being used again). Mr. Mori thinks that there is no danger to the government from using the supermajority to resolve the debate over the gasoline tax, that the threat of an HC censure motion is nothing to fear. As I noted in the run-up to the re-passage of the anti-terror law earlier this month, on paper the DPJ's threat to censure the government isn't much of a threat. The government could theoretically ignore it. But a censure motion backed by massive public outcry against the government would be harder to ignore.

It is difficult to see how Mr. Fukuda, for all his good intentions, will be able to reassert his control of the LDP and regain the momentum in Diet deliberations.


Bryce said...

Here's my theory.

1a) In Japan chicks manage household finances.
1b) In Japan chicks do the shopping.
1c) In Japan sales tax is a bad political platform.

2a) In Japan dudes don't manage household finances.
2b) In Japan, dudes fill the car up with gas.
2c) Dudes may say they care about higher petrol prices in public opinion polls, but as long as there is pachinko and beer, would it really change their vote?

(The chicks don't care about gas either, as long as the increase comes out of the dudes' beer and pachinko allowance.)

David said...

If I had 1 yen for every time someone has predicted the end of the LDP over the last 20-25 years. Lose the next election? That'd be a shock, but within the realm of possibility. They ain't gonna lose power for the long-term. Lots of folks are predicting that a true two-party system is finally developing in Japan. I'll believe that when it happens and continues for about 20 years.

Willie said...


It's safe to say you don't sound like an old Japan hand.


Sure, but the economy was pretty good for most of those 50 years of LDP rule. Most people don't feel like the economy is good at all-nor the future.

Bryce said...


I was being facetious. That happens from time to time on blogs. However, I do wonder if you are denying the received wisdom that married females are the consumers most sensitive to price fluctuations in Japan. Polls occasionally ask ONLY married women what they think of such matters.

I don't know what constitutes an "old Japan hand", but I suspect someone who uses the term in relation to themselves either has a superficial knowledge of their subject matter or views the policy area in question solely through the prism of U.S. foreign policy. The two categories are not mutually exclusive.

MTC said...

bryce -

The lastest ANN poll showed 17% for renewal of the temporary tax and 74% against.

Those are brutal numbers. If the LDP goes against the public's clear preference--especially through an override, enough members of the public will start asking the meaning of the word "representative" to make a difference at election time.

Bryce said...

Yes, I take your point MTC, although I have other poll results show the split is more like 30/60 with 10% DN/NA. As I have already noted elsewhere on this blog, forcing through the petrol bill without debate is not good for the LDP's reputation. But will this be such a vital issue come election time? I'm not so sure. The electorate already has a number of reasons to vote the LDP out, and that they may well do.

But I'm sure in a few months time, people may grumble about the price of gas, but when push comes to shove, other factors will be primarily responsible for a change in government if it does occur. Note that in the same (Yomiuri) poll I quoted above, where the gas tax was raised as an issue, more than twice as many respondents as favoured the DPJ still favoured the LDP. Unless the public are forced to think of the gas tax at the election - i.e. if the DPJ campaigns on removing it - I don't see it as a crucial factor in the popularity of the party.

That petrol bill, as contentious as it may be now, will be just one of a thousand cuts the LDP has inflicted on itself lately.