Sunday, October 26, 2008

Aso pushes back

Prime Minister Aso, holding a press conference in Beijing where he is attending the annual Asia-Europe meeting (ASEM), suggested that in the midst of the current crisis, he will be prioritizing Japan's international role over the "domestic political situation."

The press interpretation of this remark is that Mr. Aso was signaling that he will not call an election for the latter half of November. He is still scheduled to make an announcement regarding election timing by month's end, but it appears unlikely that the prime minister will call for an election by the end of November.

Of course, by Japan's international role, Mr. Aso actually meant domestic stimulus in the hope of replacing vanishing foreign demand for Japanese products with more robust domestic consumer spending. Naturally the means by which to encourage greater domestic consumption have nothing to do with the "domestic political situation" and the LDP's electoral prospects...

The LDP and its partner Komeito are, according to Mainichi, divided over whether to hold an election within the year. Komeito actually used the F-word ("Fukuda") to argue that Mr. Aso should not delay an election, suggesting that if Mr. Aso tarries, the DPJ will become uncooperative yet again, rendering the Aso government a premature lame duck, like the former prime minister. (Apparently Komeito foresees that an election will "untwist" the Diet. Is that because Komeito thinks the LDP is bound to lose its majority?) Finance Minister Nakagawa Shoichi, meanwhile, suggested that it would be irresponsible for the government to call an election in the midst of the current crisis.

What, I wonder, do the LDP's backbenchers make of this? At this point will waiting until the spring or next September make any difference in their electoral prospects? Is it reasonable for the LDP to expect that the economy will look any better in the new year, new stimulus package or no new stimulus package? Does any expect that the Aso government will finally find a way to stimulate sluggish domestic demand in the midst of a crisis that seems to be encouraging anything but consumption? The Bank of Japan has already revised its growth expectations for the 2009 fiscal year down to zero.

MTC suggested Friday that the government could use talk of a future consumption tax increase to encourage more spending in the near term. Maybe, but such suggestions could simply leave citizens outraged and put them in even more of a hanging mood as regards the LDP. For a backbencher, the delay simply means more scare campaign funds spent idling in the non-campaign campaign. Given that the LDP's prospects are unlikely to have improved by the spring, it's probably just as well (from the backbencher's perspective) that the party opt for an election sooner rather than later. Holding an election will at least clarify the muddied political situation.

Of course, from the perspective of Mr. Aso and his cronies, delaying is entirely in their interest. Will the public — already angry at the government for a host of reasons — be charitable to the Aso government and return it to power in the midst of a crisis? The prime minister is better off waiting to see whether the two stimulus packages have some salutary effect before going to the people in a general election. And I doubt Mr. Aso is keen on the idea of potentially being one of the shortest-serving prime ministers ever.

All of which goes to say that the DPJ's new approach of calling Mr. Aso a coward for not calling an election is unlikely to succeed at either forcing Mr. Aso's hand or drastically impacting the prime minister's approval rating.


Princess said...

And there may also be the element that a delayed election will stress out Mr. Ozawa that he will either fall ill or have a heart attack.

An evil but likely thought by Mr. Aso.

Tobias Harris said...

Reminiscent, of course, of Mr. Ozawa's wavering on the Liberal coalition with the LDP under Obuchi...