Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fault lines

Does anyone think that the Machimura faction, that 89-member monster of a faction that sits at the intersection of the LDP's divisions between "neo-liberal" reformers, party leaders, and ideological conservatives, will survive this party election?

Following up on both his previous dismissal of Koike Yuriko's prospects and his endorsement of Aso Taro, Mori Yoshiro said of Nakagawa Hidenao's promotion — he being one of the faction's three titular leaders — of Ms. Koike, "The position of the daihyo sewanin [Mr. Nakagawa's difficult-to-translate title] of pushing (Ms. Koike) to the fore is a bit of a problem."

"He says 'a candidate must stand on behalf of the reformists,' but is not Secretary-General Aso a reformist?"

Whatever you want to call Mr. Aso — I agree with Jun Okumura that it is far too simplistic to dismiss Mr. Aso with the word "conservative," not because he isn't, but because the label conceals more than it reveals — the LDP's reform school clearly does not view him as one of their own and is desperate for an alternative. Indeed, their desperation can be seen in the fears of the Koizumi kids, as they sense that Fukuda Yasuo's resignation and the chaos it has engendered can only hurt them in the eyes of the public. For the Koizumi kids, this party leadership election may represent one last chance to pick a leader who will enable them to go before their constituents and declare that reform lives.

But the reform school is not the only LDP group desperately seeking an anyone-but-Aso candidate.

Yamasaki Taku, Kato Koichi, and Koga Makoto, three doyens of the LDP's once-dominant mainstream conservatism (which in the contemporary context makes them the LDP's liberals, in Mr. Kato's own reckoning), met Wednesday to discuss an anti-Aso candidate. It is worth noting that despite Messrs. Yamasaki and Koga being faction heads, the article notes that they spoke as individuals, implying that they were not speaking on behalf of their factions.

It seems that we are witnessing a post-faction LDP presidential election, less than a year after the Fukuda election in which conventional wisdom proclaimed that the factions were back in control. This campaign is already breaking down along ideological lines, not factional lines. As I've argued previously, the relevant groupings are not the factions but the ideological study groups and associations that cross factional lines. Mr. Aso's campaign rests not on his twenty-member faction — which conveniently has enough members to nominate him as a candidate — but on the party-wide network of conservatives that backed his candidacy last year in defiance of their faction heads and who subsequently organized (in part) under the aegis of Nakagawa Shoichi's "True Conservative Policy Research Group." Similarly, Mr. Nakagawa's Koizumians, while clustered within the Machimura faction, can also be found in other factions and among the party's independent members. The liberals, such as they exist, are also found in more than one faction.

Seeing how this LDP presidential election campaign is unfolding, I think it is safe to assume that the recommendations of faction heads will have little or no role in determining how the LDP's parliamentarians vote on Sept. 22. Ideology, not faction will determine who the LDP chooses.

I still think Mr. Aso will emerge at the top based both on his support at the grassroots and the strength of the conservatives in the contemporary LDP — who are hungry to reclaim what they lost when Abe Shinzo resigned, but the LDP that emerges on Sept. 22 will not be the same LDP that existed at the moment of Mr. Fukuda's resignation.

UPDATE: I should add that in addition to the three major ideological groupings there is the cautious bulk of the LDP parliamentary party, which will give its allegiance to no camp but the one that appears to be the most beneficial for their electoral prospects. I think Mr. Mori, with his mission of preserving LDP dominance, best speaks for this segment, which is why I think Mr. Aso will prevail. Mr. Aso may be the less risky choice — at least for the average LDP member — come the next general election.


mike thies said...

This excellent post raises a question I've had for some time now. Since factions no longer control leadership races, and don't matter much for elections, and even can be ignored in post allocation, what ARE they for any more? As you point out, correctly, the differences between them are not ideological (those difference cross-cut factional ones). So how does an LDPer choose which faction to join? And what does the faction do for him/her?

MTC said...

Mr. Thies -

Joining a faction gives a member of the LDP an identity, a lineage past. The lingering popularity joining a faction, that is to say take on the history of a faction as one's own, might have its origins in cultural compulsions. It may also just be the flip side of Diet members not having personal records of legislative achievement.

mike thies said...


The notion that factionalism in the LDP is culturally based is as old as the party. And it might be true as far as it goes, but it's not helpful for understanding more than "there are factions." It might explain why people form or join groups, but it can't explain how they choose one group over another, or why there are 8 groups and not 4 or 2 or 26. Years of scholarship have tied the stable factional structure of the LDP before 1994 to the electoral system that forced LDP politicians to divide the vote, and created a set of resources (money, posts, endorsements) that factions could control in exchange for loyalty. That exchange has broken down, and scholars and journalists have noted. So my question now is "what is the new logic of factions in the LDP?" How does a politician choose one versus another? On what grounds do factions oppose each other?

MTC said...

Mr. Thies -

I fail to see what is so complicated about the decision the individual LDP member makes regarding which faction he/she should join. The unattached party member balances the pluses and minuses of being either

a) a small fish in a big pond or

b) a big fish in a small pond.

The present size of the Machimura Faction and the expansion of the Tanaka faction in the 1970s are clear demonstrations of the first principle. Ishihara Nobuteru's recent accession to the Yamasaki faction is a clear demonstration of the second.

As for the reason for the survival of the limited number of factions after their primary function has ceased to exist, that too seems none too complicated. Consider:

a) About one third of the seats in the House of Representatives are inherited.

b) No lineage ever desires its own destruction.

c) No lineage desires a diminution of its political strength relative the other factions

What is the outcome given a), b) and c)?

Anonymous said...

My answer to Mike Thies suggestion that because the factions do not control coherent agendas anymore that they are therefore useless historical remnants of a bygone era is the following. They are useful for determining candidates for leadership positions in lieu of other mechanisms that have not yet emerged. There is something in this of the historical lineage identification that mtc mentions. It has been noted before that the LDP factional system was in any case not exclusively ideological in orientation but had elements of more primitive urges such as identification with a leading personality.