Friday, March 21, 2008

What, me worry?

In an editorial Friday, the Hokkaido Shimbun wondered why Prime Minister Fukuda exhibits no sense of crisis despite mounting problems and falling popularity.

"It's strange," the newspaper writes, "that the prime minister's sense of crisis appears to be diluted," considering that the BOJ vacancy and the uncertain prospects for a compromise with the DPJ over taxes and road construction could spell the end of his premiership.

Yamamoto Ichita, LDP HC member, suggests that concerns about the durability of the Fukuda cabinet may be overblown because all Diet members are motivated by what he calls "election avoidance syndrome." His HR colleagues, he suggests, are terrified for their election prospects and will therefore be willing to bend considerably to delay a general election. He suggests that some younger LDP members will vote against renewing the gasoline tax if the tax is canceled and then comes up for a vote in the HR again. In a postscript, Mr. Yamamoto addresses the idea that the LDP might dump Mr. Fukuda prematurely: "With the Fukuda cabinet's approval rating dropping, 'Dump Fukuda' voices are strengthening within the party?!?...this case is inconsistent with 'election avoidance syndrome.'" The LDP will stick with Mr. Fukuda, he argues, because dumping him will raise the chances of an early election. (Then again, his logic that another leadership change will mean pressure to go to the people for a mandate is shaky, if only because the baton was passed from Mr. Abe to Mr. Fukuda without the people being consulted.)

Perhaps Mr. Fukuda's Thursday meeting with Nakagawa Shoichi and Yosano Kaoru, who represent two blocs that could potentially challenge Mr. Fukuda's leadership, suggests that his hold on the party, however tenuous, remains secure. (In other words, both men and their comrades are slight content to let Mr. Fukuda suffer the slings and arrows of the divided Diet.)

Mr. Yamamoto may be right: Mr. Fukuda could have nothing to worry about by virtue of being in possession of the leadership. But to echo a concern raised by the Hokkaido Shimbun, how long can he go without articulating a reform agenda? And for how much longer can he count on both the conservatives and the reformists to support his government?

Foreign policy could prove Mr. Fukuda's undoing. Sankei reported that the subject of the True Conservative Policy Study Group's meeting this week was China policy, which turned into criticism of Mr. Fukuda's reconciliatory approach. A muddled approach to Tibet could give the conservatives an opening, if they choose to exploit it.

The daunting political situation is probably enough to secure Mr. Fukuda's position through the July G8 summit — I still think that prospective successors would prefer that Mr. Fukuda take a thorny issue or two off the agenda first — but if his public support doesn't recover in the meantime, his opponents may be tempted to force him out before the start of the autumn extraordinary session, election avoidance syndrome or no election avoidance syndrome.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Trying to follow your reports and ruminations on Fukuda's and the LDP's political plight and an occasional foray into the very inadequate news stories in the Asahi Shimbun, still leaves me in mystery on what is actually broiling Japanese politics today. Fukuda still seems to me to have restored some semblance of moderation and sanity after the absurd and neurotic Abe prime ministership. Could you try to clarify in some future article what you think is really causing this uncertainty and dissatisfaction concerning the Fukuda leadership?

Bryce said...

I tend to agree with Mr. Yamamoto on the disposition of most of the LDP members. After Koizumi (and facing an opposition where the leader has been in position going on two years now) it seems a little silly to get rid of your PM after only half a year. It makes the LDP look ridiculous. And I don't know that Fukuda's potential replacement (Aso) has done enough to assuage the party that he is not just a slightly less serious version of Abe.

Having seen Fukuda in action though, I think the reason he doesn't really care about his popularity ratings is that he doesn't really care about being Prime Minister. I don't think that like Abe he saw the position as part of his destiny. It was, like politics, just an opportunity that came along and he took it.

After Abe, I think he is doing OK. I don't really know what the LDP can do to revive its chances at the next election. I certainly don't think replacing Fukuda with Aso will improve the party's chances.