Thursday, February 5, 2009

The LDP fiddles while its kingdom burns

As LDP members increasingly come to terms with what looks to be certain defeat in this year's general election — described in graphic terms by MTC as the LDP's "thrashing about and coughing up blood" — the party's leaders continue to struggle in vain for some way to avoid destruction.

As I mentioned in a discussion with Ken Worsley and Garrett DeOrio when I recorded my latest appearance on their podcast Seijigiri, the LDP looks like an animal caught in a trap: the more it tries to escape, the worse the pain, for both the party and those who have to watch it struggle.

One manifestation of this struggle is, as MTC noted, the party's foolish discussion of making Diet reform a prominent plank in its election platform. The LDP is considering both a cut in the number of lower house seats and a proposal to eliminate the upper house. MTC lays the former proposal at Komeito's feet, but there appears to be no shortage of enthusiasm for both ideas among the ranks of LDP Diet members. But MTC is right to note that this is an absurd waste of time considering that Japan's economy is in freefall.

But the LDP seems incapable of doing anything other than busying itself with distractions in the hope that one of them triggers a bout of irrationality on the part of Japanese voters that leads them to return the LDP to power later this year. (Yes, irrationality: each day makes it harder to describe voting for the LDP as anything but irrational.)

Hence the irrepresible talk of replacing Aso Taro with yet another party leader and prime minister. The ubiquitous Tahara Soichiro wins the prize for perhaps the worst suggestion for a replacement in a field full of contenders: he suggests that Tanigaki Sadakazu, former finance minister and perennial contender for the party leadership, is the right man for the job. He barely explains why, tucking the suggestion in the final line of an article discussing the political situation more broadly. What can Mr. Tanigaki possibly offer the LDP now that he couldn't offer the party before?

But substitute any name for Mr. Tanigaki's, and the answer is the same. The LDP will not be saved by a new leader, because the LDP's problems are beyond the ability of any one man or woman to fix. The LDP is overwhelmed by the ever-growing mountain of problems facing Japan today. And rather than work on setting priorities, the LDP's leaders are distracted by trivia (Diet reform) or irrelevant factional matters.

In this latter category falls the battle for leadership of the Machimura faction, which has been settled in Mori Yoshiro's favor. The triumvirate that had governed the faction will be replaced, as Machimura Nobutaka will once again become the titular head of the faction, with Mr. Nakagawa staying in place in what will now be a lesser position along with upper house member Tanigawa Shuzen, the third member of the triumvirate. Having been effectively demoted in the faction, will Mr. Nakagawa now go back on his declaration of loyalty to prime minister and party? Not likely. Not surprisingly, Yamamoto Ichita and other younger members of the faction are opposed to the demotion, complaining that a faction member shouldn't be punished for stating policy positions different from certain leaders. The reformists will complain, but ultimately they will stay put, at least until a general election.

At the same time as the turmoil within the party's largest faction, Mr. Aso is in talks with Koga Makoto, head of the Kochikai, the party's third largest faction, with an eye to merging the Aso faction to restore the Kochikai to its old borders and make it the second largest faction. But to what end? What possible difference could it make? It is already clear that the factions have little power over how their members think or how their members vote in leadership elections. Will Mr. Aso's position be any more secure for having the support of the second largest faction, or the largest faction for that matter? Will LDP members grumble any less about the prime minister?

The same goes for that other favorite tool of LDP leaders, the cabinet reshuffle. Other than putting someone competent at the head of the finance ministry, what difference will a cabinet reshuffle make in shoring up public support for the government?

Despite its claims to be the "responsible" party, the LDP is no more responsible or focused on good policymaking than the DPJ. The problem, of course, is that the LDP leads the government.

6 comments:

Adamu said...

What is up with Tawara Soichiro? Is he just another boring influence peddler with no imagination? Everything I read from him is just so, conventional, though I guess I shouldnt be surprised.

Tim said...

Not much wonder that many Japanese are now beginning to look to the Communist Party for leadership. This inbred group of pampered halfwits is simply out of touch. How the Japanese public can restrain from open protest is beyond me.

Ken said...

Other than putting someone competent at the head of the finance ministry, what difference will a cabinet reshuffle make in shoring up public support for the government?

Ouch. I think he's better than his predecessor, but that isn't saying much at all.

I don't think a cabinet reshuffle can do much of anything. Perhaps bringing Yuriko Koike into the field will help a bit, but not much. She just won't have the buzz that she did when she became defense minister. I can't imagine anyone else having much of an effect.

Noah said...

One little-noticed strength of the DPJ is that it doesn't have factions. My guess is that policy-making will thus be more coherent and effective under the DPJ than under the LDP, since the DPJ's internal fault lines will be ideological (and thus open to compromise) rather than personal and patronage-based.

Those who draw an "equivalence of incoherence" between the LDP and the DPJ tend to overlook this difference, I think.

Tobias Harris said...

Noah,

I think you're a bit too optimistic about the lack of factions in the DPJ.

There are factions — "groups" in the party lingo — but what differs is that they are not integrated into the party machinery in the way factions were during the LDP's golden age.

At the moment the strength and coherence of the DPJ can be explained in two words: Ozawa Ichiro. It is amazing how Ozawa has managed to serve as a glue for a party that does have internal policy differences.

The obvious question, then, is what happens after Ozawa. I don't have an answer to that question yet.

Noah said...

The danger of ideological divisions is that they will split a party. But the danger of personalistic factional divisions seems to be that they will leave a party intact that, ideologically, should be split - which in turn paralyzes the party. Do you think that's essentially correct?

If only Japan had an elected executive...