Thursday, January 17, 2008

Let there be strife

The LDP held its party convention in Tokyo on Thursday, and the mood was anything but cheery.

Prime Minister Fukuda spoke bluntly about the existential crisis facing the party today. "We are facing the greatest crisis since the foundation of the party," he said to a crowd of some 3400 party members and supporters.

Reiterating the party's mantra since losing last July's HC election, Prime Minister Fukuda emphasized the need to act on behalf of the Japanese people, joining the DPJ in putting lifestyle issues first. (Does anyone else find it odd that the prime minister of a long-standing ruling party needs to remind his own party of the need to govern on behalf of the people?)

Will the party's clans stop warring long enough to hear Mr. Fukuda's message?

In advance of the party convention, the discord within the party became ever more open. On Wednesday, former prime minister Mori Yoshiro bluntly addressed Nakagawa Shoichi's flirtations with former LDP member Hiranuma Takeo via their "true conservative" study group (discussed here), reminding Mr. Nakagawa that his faction, the Ibuki faction (whose head, Ibuki Bunmei, is the party secretary-general), should come before his dalliance with Mr. Hiranuma. Something tells me that Mr. Nakagawa is not about to halt his extracurricular activities in pursuit of "true conservatism" — and besides, when Mr. Mori speaks, does anyone actually listen? (Just to show to make clear exactly what his vision of the party is, he also lashed out at the Koizumi Kids, suggesting that Mr. Mori would love to go back to the old days when everyone in the party got along to distribute money to supporters and were returned to office over and over again.)

I think it's safe to say that Mr. Fukuda's remarks Thursday are aimed at his conservative rivals, whose allies in the media have castigated him relentlessly since not long after he took office. As I discussed here, the priorities of these conservatives are not those of Mr. Fukuda (or the Japanese people). Mr. Fukuda recognizes that the LDP cannot afford a repeat of July 2007; it cannot afford to ignore the concerns of the people and expect to escape unscathed, not with the DPJ — for all its troubles — doing its best to capitalize on the LDP's failure to address the many insecurities of the Japanese people.

The conservative ideologues will have to choose between their ideals and party unity (and power). I'm not entirely certain that they will choose the latter over the former, especially if they come to reason that an electoral disaster under Mr. Fukuda will enable them to discredit his leadership and reclaim the LDP for themselves.

Meanwhile, the new Kochikai lurched ever closer to its rebirth, with Messrs. Koga and Tanigaki formally agreeing to merge their factions on Wednesday. Announcing the merger, Mr. Tanigaki said, "Since we share DNA, we want to once more make a nucleus that will be a stream in support of the LDP's conservative politics." (Apparently conservatism is as contested in the LDP as it is in the US Republican Party.) But as I noted previously, although the new faction will have sixty-one members, making it the third-largest faction, it is possible that some of those members may be more interested in supporting Mr. Aso than Mr. Tanigaki or any other candidate that the new faction would back in a leadership race.

This might be premature of me to suggest, but I wonder whether we are witnessing the twilight of the LDP factions, at least the factions as we know them. The LDP will, of course, remain fractured, just as the DPJ is fractured, but part of a political realignment might mean the transformation of factions from being social clubs good for collecting cash and distributing patronage to being ideological clubs along the lines of Mr. Nakagawa's study group. Might not the September 2007 presidential election, in which faction members clearly ignored the instructions of faction leaders to vote for Mr. Aso be a sign of what's to come?


ross said...

I'd note that LDP backbenchers did not vote the factional lines in the party presidency races in 1996 for Hashimoto and in 2001 for Koizumi as well as in 2007. The role of factions in selecting an LDP president is pretty much dead.

That gives factions less of a role in legislative affairs which may well spill over into the electoral arena as well. I suspect we are possibly seeing the first bit of that with the Tanigaki-ha (re)joining the Koga-ha but talk about the Aso-ha joining to reform the old Ikeda-Ohira-Miyazawa-ha is just talk.

Aso belongs with Ibuki, Machimura and those guys which would sort out some of the policy variation within the factional system. IOW, I still think policy will become a predictor of factional membership which was never the case in the pre-1994 LDP.

Anonymous said...

Your remarks indicate that the LDP remains fractured and uncertain of its future. I find it disconcerting to hear that the new Kochikai faction would back Aso Taro as readily as it would back Tanigaki, the new Deputy faction head. The blame for this state of affairs rests very much with Koizumi's successful attempts to shake the LDP factional system up. Most of the readers of this blog were happy to see the breakup of the old factions but I never agreed with this view of Japanese politics. Factions as I have said before, served as a weak form of checks and balances within the one party dominant politics of Japan.

Japan Observer said...

I don't take the talk of courting Aso very seriously — and I doubt Mr. Aso was serious about being courted. I'm sure that his chances are better off without the Kochikai, and that he knows it.

I agree that the factions are underappreciated by foreign observers of Japanese politics, but their value is neither here nor there. They're going, and the question is what will replace them.