Sunday, August 30, 2009

Meet the new LDP

Having fallen 181 seats to 119 seats in the new Diet, the LDP that will face a governing DPJ will be a peculiar party.

What I find most striking is that fifty-five of the LDP's winners are hereditary members, constituting 46.5% of the party's new caucus. By comparison, of the DPJ's 308 winners, only thirty-two (10.4%) are hereditary Diet members. The DPJ majority truly signifies the arrival of fresh blood into the political system, even as the LDP has become even more colored by its political princes. (Of course this outcome makes the LDP's pre-election debate about banning hereditary members look farcical.)

As MTC astutely noted well before the election, how will the LDP's new leaders discipline the party when some many of its members survived by distancing themselves from the party and campaigning on the basis of their name or other personal qualities? As Tanaka Makiko quipped, the Jiminto (LDP) has become a collection of Jibunto (personal parties) even more than it was before the election.

The result, of course, will be greater conflict among the party leaders who survived, all of whom have different visions for how the LDP should act in opposition. Abe Shinzo, naturally seeing the defeat as an opportunity to reinsert himself into the center of the party, suggested that the LDP will press the DPJ hard, although I suspect that will mostly mean criticizing the DPJ from the hard right, which, as the Abe government's 2007 defeat showed, is hardly an effective means of attacking the DPJ.

It may be a bad thing that so many LDP heavyweights survived. Abe, Aso, Fukuda, and Mori all survived, as did Nakagawa Hidenao, who was defeated in his electoral district but revived in PR. The post-election LDP may be cursed with too many leaders and too few followers. That is the significance of the defeat of the Koizumi children, only ten of whom survived (out of seventy-seven). Nakagawa is convinced that his survival through PR was a matter of destiny, and presumably he will be even less reluctant to make his opinions about the party's conduct known. Overall, the LDP may be just as divided, just smaller, with fewer new faces (and new ideas) in the mix. Only five LDP winners are first-timers.

Meanwhile, the factions really may be finished. The Machimura faction, which has dominated the LDP for the past decade, fell from sixty-one to twenty-three seats in the lower house, leaving it with fifty between the two houses. The Tsushima faction fell to one-third of its pre-election strength in the lower house, to fourteen seats, leaving it with thirty-seven between the two. The Koga faction's strength was nearly halved, to twenty-five, leaving it with thirty-four between the two houses. The Nikai faction suffered most, falling to one in the lower house (Nikai himself) and three between the two houses. All are smaller, and of little value to their remaining members.

What lesson will the LDP learn from the DPJ's battle in opposition against the LDP? That saying no can be effective? If that's the lesson the LDP learns, it is in for a long spell in opposition — because the DPJ did not win the support of the Japanese public just by saying no to the LDP, but by saying no and suggesting that the LDP's priorities were completely wrong.

The LDP will have to find a way to win independents: there will be no other way back into power. Exit polls found that more than fifty percent of independents supported the DPJ, certainly a major factor — perhaps the major factor — in the DPJ's victory, although the DPJ also took thirty percent of LDP supporters. (Incidentally, the exit polls also showed that the absence of JCP candidates was another important factor in the DPJ's victory, confirming that the JCP ought to bear some of the blame for prolonging LDP rule.) Inevitably it will win some back as the DPJ disappoints the public, but for the LDP to return as a serious contender for power (that's a weird phrase) at some point the LDP will have to come up with a reason for the voters to take it seriously as a governing party again. It will have to make more than rhetorical gestures in the direction of the issues of greatest concern to the voting public. Having a younger, well-spoken leader could help too. I am increasingly inclined to see Ishihara Nobuteru as the most likely successor to Aso.

8 comments:

Brad said...

Hi Tobias,

Great blog

This is all bittersweet for me. I was in Japan in 2003 to witness the birth of the DPJ as a major in the November elections. I knew then it was only a matter of time before the LDP were thrown out - it just happened 6 years later than I expected. Koizumi surprised me in 2005 by scoring a major victory and as you have pointed in your article on TNR, he was really the only thing holding the ship together.

I waited for it all to unravel after Abe took over ( (proud to say I told my wife on day one he would be a disaster) and first it was satisfying, but after a certain point it just became outrageous.

And now that the moments of truth finally arrives, we're back in America and not there to see it live..

Regardless of what the DPJ does from here on out, I think this is a major step forward for Japan in terms of the populace growing up and taking responsibility for their country. I am proud of them and I hope there are at least a few tangible results.

Janne Morén said...

A quibble (I seem to ahve a lot of those around lately):

It is not true that "the JCP ought to bear some of the blame for prolonging LDP rule". Last time I looked they were different parties, pushing very different agendas and ideologies. The JCP is responsible for maximizing the support of the JCP, nothing else. I'm quite willing to speculate that from the point of view of a JCP supporter, the idea of DPJ rule is only marginally better than LDP - and that mostly because of the idea of regime change itself, not due to any difference in ideology.

This is based on the faulty assumption that two parties is the "right" number to have, and everybody should simply pick the better (or less bad) among the two. People in the US (I guess it's growing up in a two-party system that creates this assumption) did the same thign when they blamed Ralph Nader for Kerry's loss. Nothing of the kind - why not blame Kerry for making Ralph Nader lose?

Truth is, Kerry did not win because his campaign, his program and his personal appearance was not good enough to get him all the way. LDP rule has continued up until now because there has not been a credible opposition, and the LDP itself has been very good at co-opting or splintering the opposition when it was in danger of becoming a force.

Unless they're in coalition, a party has no moral or ethical call to help another party win. If the DPJ really thought the JCP should help them, all they needed to do was to invite them into coalition. If not, then it's every party for itself.

Adam said...

Good job, Tobias. Enjoyed reading your blog.

If there is a party in need of serious soul-searching, it is the Komeito. Chairman Ota's defeat shows not only that many were disappointed with his leadership, but quite possibly disaffected with the "all-LDP, all-the-time" relationship.

Having been a ruling coalition partner for so long, many may not like being labelled as the "oppostion". I predict that this election may mean an end to the LDP relationship for now, with public statements asserting the party`s "independence" and positions "based on" their infallible (?) Buddhist beliefs.

Jeremy said...

"I am increasingly inclined to see Ishihara Nobuteru as the most likely successor to Aso."
Not Masuzoe? He seems to be being groomed as LDP's new poster boy.
Meanwhile I was amused that Nobuteru's younger brother, Hirotaka, was one of the losers in Tokyo, where his father is the governor.

Anonymous said...

Tobias,
Nice to see all the energy going into the blog. I tend to think what we will eventually get to (and it may take a few more election cycles) is more policy discipline within the party. Heretofore there have been no consequences for infighting and factionalism. Hopefully this has now changed a bit. Also, I tend to think we may see more sharply defined policy differences between the parties as something other than mere incumbency is required to win elections.

Christopher said...

Janne, I was under the impression that the JCP refused to join coalitions. Certainly they never coordinated with regard to elections (supporting a DPJ candidate rather than running a JCP candidate and vice versa - this was the first time they didn't run a candidate in every district) with the DPJ the way Komeito did with the LDP. If they were amenable to cooperation, I would find it hard to believe that the DPJ (or for that matter, the Socialists 20 years ago) refused.

Noah said...

People in the US (I guess it's growing up in a two-party system that creates this assumption) did the same thign when they blamed Ralph Nader for Kerry's loss. Nothing of the kind - why not blame Kerry for making Ralph Nader lose?

A) It was Gore whose loss was caused by Nader, not Kerry.

B) Think about this: In 2000, a majority of people voted for a liberal candidate (Gore or Nader). But because there was only one conservative candidate and two liberal candidates, we got 8 years of George Bush. Had Nader dropped out in 2000, the United States would have been spared the Iraq war, torture, warrantless wiretapping, the destruction of our European alliances, environmental degradation, and a mountain of national debt. But Nader refused to drop out, so we got all those bad things.

It really is just that simple.

Tinter said...

Noah- Perhaps so. However, thats a presidential election which heavily tends towards a two-party system. Its not really comparable to a general election like this one, especially since the JCP won seats and 3 times naders vote. The DPJ platform doesn't really offer that much to a JCP supporter, and the DPJ doesn't offer much to the JCP, so why should the JCP stand down in their favour?

I'm no fan of the JCP but there is clearly a big ideological gap, and its their job to advance their position, not walk away to facilitate changing between two regimes they disagree with. A party that can't overcome that in this circumstance is a party that hasn't really united people behind it anyway- which was probably the case in Japan before this year.