Showing posts with label 2009 LDP leadership election. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2009 LDP leadership election. Show all posts

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The end of an era

Nakagawa Shoichi, the finance minister under Aso Taro who, becoming infamous worldwide for his behavior at a G7 meeting in Rome in February, was forced to resign and then lost his seat in the August general election, was found dead at his home in Tokyo's Setagaya ward Sunday morning. Yomiuri notes an absence of external wounds, suggesting that Nakagawa, like his father Ichiro, took his own life.

This last detail should give us pause. As became apparent when Nakagawa's alcoholism finally made its way into the media, it seems likely that he was struggling with demons that few of us can truly understand. As I remarked at the time, Nakagawa ought not to have been an object of ridicule; the only question raised by his behavior was why Aso put a man struggling with a serious disease in charge of the finance ministry in the midst of "a once-in-a-century financial crisis."

The timing of his death also has important symbolism, coming as it does in the wake of the election of Tanigaki Sadakazu, one of Nakagawa's predecessors as finance minister, as LDP president. By choosing the dovish Tanigaki by a substantial margin — Tanigaki received 300 of 498, more than double the 144 votes received by Kono Taro, who finished second — LDP Diet members and party supporters gave their support for a new policy direction, an impression reinforced by Tanigaki's naming Ishiba Shigeru as chairman of the LDP's policy research council. The balance of power within the LDP, which, as discussed in this post has favored revisionist hawks for much of the post-cold war period, has shifted decisively in the direction of the LDP's past, the past of "income doubling" and egalitarianism. Appropriately Tanigaki belongs to the revived Kochikai, the faction that was home to Ikeda Hayato, Miyazawa Kiichi, and other LDP leaders who kept the party focused on economic welfare and social stability.

Appealing to this tradition alone is not enough, of course: Tanigaki faces an uphill battle to change the LDP into a party that can commit to any one policy line, let alone an agenda that prioritizes the wellbeing of Japan's citizens and addresses the dilemma facing Japan's government today. Indeed, I think Tanigaki is more likely than not to fail in remaking the LDP into a party that will be positioned to return to power in the immediate future. He may be wholly sincere in his desire to reform the party, but as the candidate of the LDP's establishment, Tanigaki won precisely because he poses less of a risk to the LDP's traditional institutions than Kono.

But Nakagawa's death calls attention to just how precipitously the influence of the LDP's ideological conservatives has declined since the 2007 upper house election. Having lost their best opportunity to move their agenda when the LDP lost and then Abe Shinzo resigned and promptly checked himself into Keio hospital, the conservatives rallied to irritate Fukuda Yasuo, managed to get their man Aso into the premiership, but then were utterly lost as the global financial crisis ravaged the Japanese economy. They are still there: Abe still thinks he can return to glory and Aso has already stated that "sooner or later the Hatoyama government will fail," which may be factually true but Aso seems to think it will happen sooner rather than later due to Hatoyama's personal failings. But they are irrelevant to the LDP's future, able to irritate a party leader, much as they did to Fukuda, but unable to shape the party's agenda in a way that will enable the LDP to return to power.

The Japanese public has made clear in the past two elections what it wants from the government: government action to mitigate economic insecurity, especially regarding pensions and retirement. The LDP's conservatives have made clear that they have very little to say about these issues, and on the issues that they do have a lot to say — foreign policy, national defense, "moral" education, the constitution — the voting public has little to no interest.

So Nakagawa's passing may be the final exclamation point on the revisionist era of the LDP.

But politics aside, Nakagawa's death should not be an occasion for having one last laugh at his expense. The British politician Enoch Powell famously wrote, "All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs." But Nakagawa's end — both his political end in August and his mortal end — was particularly tragic, if only because it was in large part the product of his all-too-human failings. Whatever one thinks of his politics — I certainly have had little positive to say over the years — one ought to spare a thought for the late Nakagawa Shoichi. RIP.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Practical politics, symbolic conservatism, and the decline of the LDP

The LDP's presidential race is in full swing, and Tanigaki Sadakazu appears to be in command of the race against Kono Taro and Nishimura Yasutoshi. Polls of LDP Diet members suggest that Tanigaki enjoys the support of roughly a majority of the party's 199 Diet members; Yomiuri has Tanigaki with 102 votes, Nishimura with 30, with Kono with 28, with 39 members undecided. Tanigaki has secured the support of the party establishment, which, given the LDP's demographics after the general election, could well be the path to victory. Given these figures, it is little surprise that Kono is pinning his hopes on winning overwhelming in voting in the prefectural chapters, which will cast 300 votes in the election.

At the same time, the LDP is also trying to figure out what is to blame for the party's devastating defeat last month. One Sankei article notes that one group that studied the election found that the LDP's notorious web commercials — especially this one — were well viewed, but were poorly received by those who viewed them, prompting Sankei to ask whether the Internet ads are to blame. The survey was conducted online and had a small sample size, so the idea that the LDP somehow lost because of its Internet ads is absurd (although I'm willing to buy the argument that negative LDP ads combined with the DPJ's positive campaigning may have mattered on the margins). The point is there is no shortage of explanations for why the LDP lost this general election, and undoubtedly many of them have some validity.

One factor that I find worth exploring is the role played by the LDP's virtual abandonment of bread-and-butter issues — pensions especially — to the DPJ. The 2007 upper house election and the 2009 general election were contested over issues on which the DPJ's positions were overwhelmingly favored by the voting public, insofar as the elections can be said to have been concerned with policy. While voters may have had their doubts about various DPJ proposals, the DPJ managed to tell a convincing story of how LDP rule had faltered and why "regime change" was necessary. Central to this story is the LDP's yielding livelihood issues in the years since the end of the bubble economy.

In short, the LDP did not have to lose, at least in the manner in which it lost this year. A critical factor in explaining the LDP's collapse is, I believe, a shift in how the LDP presented itself to the public. Despite having been the party that presided over the economic miracle and guided Japan — with the bureaucracy, of course — to a position of global economic prowess while maintaining social equality, by 2007 the LDP had abandoned this legacy.

Perhaps it is unusual to speak of the LDP's having "abandoned" its legacy. After all, perhaps the LDP didn't abandon its legacy. Perhaps it was punished not for having bad intentions but simply for policy failures: the economy stagnated, LDP-led governments tried to stimulate the economy, failed, and in the process tied the government's hands with tight budgets, leading to austerity that were invariably felt in different forms throughout Japan and reinforced the image of a Japan that had become less equal and more harsh for many Japanese. (Perhaps the export-led boom during the earlier part of the decade was a poisoned chalice for the LDP, in that it kept urban areas buoyant, thereby reinforcing the image of a profound gap between center and periphery.)

But I would argue that it was not simply a matter of the LDP's having tried certain policies and failed. The idea I'm toying with considers how the LDP became a different party during the 1990s, culminating in the government of Abe Shinzo, which, given the support Abe had upon taking office and the manner in which he frittered it away (destroying himself in the process). From the early 1990s until 2007 the LDP shifted not just from center to right, but from pragmatism to idealism. It shifted from the realm of practical politics — which has as its fundamental concern the livelihoods of the Japanese people — into the realm of symbolic politics, Japan's cultural war.

Before I continue, I want to discuss this division between practical politics and symbolic politics. Foreign observers have long puzzled over how to think about ideological divisions in Japanese politics. It is hard to deny that ideological divisions between left and right were an important feature of postwar Japanese politics, especially in the early postwar decades. This division was rooted in the culture war that followed Japan's defeat in World War II. Not unlike Germany after World War I and the United States after Vietnam, Japanese intellectuals and politicians were polarized largely along lines related to the war. The idealistic left saw Imperial Japan and war as the great enemy and sought to prevent Japan's return to the dark valley. Because the US had "reversed course," because it had permitted the return of so many officials associated with Imperial Japan when it realized that Japan was needed as an ally during the cold war, and because in the eyes of the Japanese left US actions against the Soviet Union (with whom the left sympathized, to say the least) risked plunging Japan and the world into conflagration, opposition to the US-Japan alliance became a cultural question as much as it was a political question. Kishi Nobusuke expressed surprise at the opposition to his revised alliance treaty in 1960, which was, after all, a better deal for Japan than the 1951 treaty: but the forceful opposition that drove Kishi from power was responding less to the content of the treaty than the fact that Japan, under the leadership of the former Class A war criminal Kishi Nobusuke (whose ideas about the Japanese economy during the war amounted to Japanese-style national socialism), was in danger of returning to its wartime identity as a participant in power politics and active ally of the "imperialist" US. The treaty protests were, after all, preceded by successful left-wing demonstrations against the 1958 revision of the Police Execution of Duties Law, which the left feared signified a return to wartime repression.

At its founding, the LDP was a party ready to push back against the left in Japan's culture war. Recall that in its founding charter the LDP declared that one of the party's fundamental goals was the restoration of Japanese independence, which for Kishi and others meant in practice revision of the 1951 security treaty and revision of the 1947 constitution. It also meant an unabashed admiration for prewar and wartime Japanese society, in which citizens did their duty in service of the Emperor, based on a mystical bound between sovereign and people. As postwar political theorist Maruyama Masao wrote in his essay "Theory and Psychology of Ultra-Nationalism:"
Japanese nationalism...was never prepared to accept a merely formal basis of validity. The reason that the actions of the nation cannot be judged by any moral standard that supersedes the nation is not that the Emperor creates norms from scratch (like the sovereign in Hobbes's Leviathan) but that absolute values are embodied in the person of the Emperor himself, who is regarded as 'the eternal culmination of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful throughout all ages and in all places.'
This is an idea with staying power for the idealistic right: Abe, after all, spoke of the emperor as the loom that has weaved the tapestry of Japan (mentioned here), and the right obviously continues to attribute tremendous importance to Imperial family and its "unbroken line" of sovereigns.

The idealistic right was concerned not only with the position of the emperor in the postwar system: the right-wing position in the culture war addressed larger questions of Japanese nationhood and Japan's place in the world. The difference between left and right was not internationalism versus nationalism, but the left's neutralist, pacifist nationalism versus the right's great-power nationalism. The idealistic right effectively inherited Meiji-era Social Darwinism that saw the world as a dangerous place in which the "fittest" nations were those capable of besting others in conflict. That Japan was virtually occupied after 1951 — given the domestic role the initial alliance treaty accorded to US forces in Japan — and that Japan's ability to compete with other nations was constrained by the "pacifist" constitution drafted by the American occupiers were terrible affronts to the idealistic right, and in practical terms they prevented Japan from contributing fully to the struggle against communism (unyielding anti-communism being another inheritance from the prewar right, despite Kishi's flirtations with leftism while at Tokyo University — indeed, despite his being branded a leftist by his enemies when he was a senior official at the ministry of commerce and industry during the 1930s). The result was that security policy was as much a matter of symbolism for both the left and the right as it was a matter of practical policy concerning budgets, troop strength, procurement, and the like. The Self-Defense Forces, Article IX, and the US-Japan alliance are the prizes over which the idealistic left and right have fought until the present day, in addition to the Imperial family and the education system, the latter with particular resonance as the left sought to prevent the right from rebuilding the education system along cherished prewar principles.

Earlier I compared Japan's symbolic culture war with interwar Germany and post-Vietnam America. There appears to be something about losing wars that results in a continuation of the lost war by other means among domestic political actors as they struggle to rebuild after defeat. Part of rebuilding the shattered nation involves, of course, assigning blame for the defeat and taking steps to ensure that the disaster would not be repeated again. (Perhaps it is controversial for me to include America on this list, but I think when one looks at what American conservatives say about the U.S. defeat in Vietnam and about what happened on the home front during the war, indeed their propensity to blame the 1960s for much of what is wrong with the US today, I think post-Vietnam American politics may follow the same lines as the other examples.)

But the culture war was by no means the whole of Japanese politics. Indeed, the interesting story in the 1960 struggle over the US-Japan security treaty was how the LDP ultimately won the struggle. The LDP was by no means united in sharing Kishi's revisionist and idealistic vision for Japan. While the first principle in the LDP's policy platform in 1955 stressed "the people's morality" and "education reform" and the second stressed reforming the electoral system and the national administration (the politicians have been at this for a while), the third and fourth goals were "economic independence" and "creating a welfare state." There were plenty of LDP members in 1960 who could be called — to borrow the slogan from the DPJ — the seikatsu dai-ichi right, conservatives who stressed the importance of economic reconstruction and egalitarianism as the best weapon against communism. Yoshida Shigeru looms large over this school of thought and it was, of course, Yoshida's protege Ikeda Hayato who succeeded Kishi, promulgated his "income doubling" plan, and stressed a "low posture" in governing. The Yoshida school, and later Tanaka Kakuei and his followers were grounded in practical politics: symbolic politics and the culture war with the left continued to rage, but was pushed to the margins of the party. The Socialist Party, rather than adapt to an LDP that had shifted from symbolic to practical politics, continued to wage its quixotic battle against the idealistic wing of the LDP, which was the "anti-mainstream" from Kishi's ouster until the end of the cold war. As such, the party system that emerged from 1960 saw the bulk of the LDP monopolizing practical, livelihood politics, which enabled it to co-opt ideas from the opposition when challenged (environmental issues in the late 1960s, for example). While corruption scandals weakened the strength of the LDP as a whole, the mainstream, practical LDP remained in control of the party and developed a system that enabled it to cooperate with the JSP — behind the veil of the Kokutai system — and the centrist, urban-based small parties that emerged after 1960.

The problem, however, is that by marginalizing the idealistic right within the LDP, Japan's culture war was essentially frozen in place. The idealistic right never had to modify its views, and thus even today conservatives makes many of the same arguments that their antecedents made in the 1950s and 1960s. Hailing back to the LDP charter, Abe's first "accomplishment" was revising the occupation-era basic education law. More significantly, Abe saw constitution revision — grandfather Kishi's unfinished business — as his government's raison d'etre and the basis upon which the LDP would contest the 2007 upper house election. Even the changes in security policy were as much about symbolism as they were about enhancing Japan's defense capabilities. The defense agency was upgraded to a ministry without fixing the agency's structural problems. Building a Japanese-style national security council, a plan abandoned when Abe left office, seemed more like an effort to acquire the trappings of a twenty-first-century great power than a fundamental transformation of Japanese security policy making. Revising the restriction on the exercise of collective self-defense could have had practical implications but was left unrealized. Meanwhile the defense budget continued to shrink and the defense procurement process — exposed as entirely rotten by the Moriya scandal that blew open just as Abe left office — went unreformed, these being two critical goals that a practical conservative like Ishiba Shigeru desperately wants to reverse in order to enhance Japan's ability to defend itself.

(Ishiba is an interesting figure. He seems to have little patience with the symbolic agenda. A defense policy wonk, he wants to make policies that strengthen Japan's defense, not symbolic measures that accord with some vision of how Japan ought to be. Little wonder that Ishiba criticized Abe after the 2007 upper house election, and that he wound up as defense minister in the eminently practical cabinet of Fukuda Yasuo.)

What changed since the early 1990s is familiar enough. I have previously discussed the monograph by Richard Samuels (my mentor at MIT) and J. Patrick Boyd, my colleague, in which they tell the story of how the LDP's pragmatists and the pacifist left worked together to resist the idealist, revisionist right on the question of constitution revision. They argue that from the early 1990s, the LDP became a more revisionist party as the practical wing of the party was weakened as the result of reforms that weakened faction heads and other party organs and strengthened the party leadership. Their argument is essentially that the LDP's old, practical mainstream was reformed to the point of being marginalized within the party, which may be true, but I wonder whether the practical conservatives also suffered as a result of their having been the ones in charge of the party as the economy foundered and as the bureaucrats — their allies in power — became deeply unpopular following a series of scandals. Indeed, it is ironic that Hashimoto Ryutaro, the heir of the mainstream tradition, was the architect of reforms that contributed to the rise of the idealists.

How did the rise of the revisionists contribute to the LDP's defeat last month? Not surprisingly I see the Abe government as the crucial turning point. It was not necessarily Koizumi Junichiro who doomed the party. Had Koizumi passed power to a successor with greater ties with practical conservatism, a successor who would have sought to reconcile structural reform with the growing perception of inequality on the part of the public, the LDP might have been able to hold out for longer against Ozawa Ichiro's DPJ, which successfully seized the "practical" mantle abandoned by the LDP as it embraced the symbolic. Instead the rise of the revisionists made it possible for Abe, virtually a living fossil of the pre-Ikeda LDP, to succeed Koizumi despite having virtually no experience in governing. Abe became prime minister despite having won only five elections and having never held ministerial positions other than a few years as a deputy chief cabinet secretary and less than a year as the chief cabinet secretary during Koizumi's victory lap. Under the old LDP system, Abe would never have become prime minister when he did (certainly a commendable feature of the old system).

The result was that at precisely the moment that the inequality problem became a grave public concern and the public lost confidence in the pensions system, the LDP was led by a politician who, indifferent to economic policy and the livelihoods of the people he governed, did little more than repeat Koizumi's slogans, while devoting his attention to the planks of a fifty-year-old party agenda. It was also at roughly the same moment that control of the DPJ passed to Ozawa, who saw that as the LDP moved in the direction of symbolic politics voters who had reliably supported the LDP when it was controlled by the practical right were increasingly disenchanted with the party and open to the possibility of voting for the DPJ. Ozawa's DPJ effectively grabbed the mantle of the old LDP mainstream. Seikatsu dai-ichi, the DPJ's slogan in the 2007 upper house election, could have served well as the slogan of the LDP from Ikeda onwards. I do not think it was coincidental that when I visited Kagawa last month, the granddaughter of Ohira Masayoshi, one in the line of practical conservative prime ministers, was campaigning on behalf of a DPJ candidate.

The DPJ as a party, especially under Ozawa, has studiously avoided symbolic politics and stayed focus on improving the lives of the people. By contrast, the LDP's campaign last month was largely symbolic: warnings about the influence of Nikkyoso, the "radical" teachers' union, the DPJ's disrespect for the flag, the party's "leftism" and inability to defend Japan, and so forth. Aso fully embraced the culture war as he campaigned around the country and warned of the dangers of DPJ rule. Of course, the dangers voters were concerned about were dangers to their jobs and their pensions.

To return to power — or, at the very least, viability — the LDP needs to reorient itself to practical politics. Tanigaki, a heir of the old mainstream, may be able to take some steps in this direction, but the idealist conservatives remain powerful, not least because Abe, Aso, and others will continue to be active in debates over the party's future. Some party leaders will no doubt continue to advocate a return to Abe's agenda of "leaving behind the postwar system" (the system built by the LDP mainstream, incidentally). It may be that the idealists are outnumbered, and that should Tanigaki win the LDP might once again focus primarily on livelihood concerns and develop a sophisticated and detailed critique of the DPJ's agenda while offering its own proposals. If so, so much the better for Japan: two large parties debating how best to ensure economic security and opportunity for the Japanese people, with atavistic culture warriors confined to the margins of the political system.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The LDP race begins

The race to succeed Aso Taro as LDP president begins today, with three candidates vying for the unenviable task of fixing a broken Liberal Democratic Party.

Surprisingly the race includes none of the candidates who Aso defeated to win the job last year: Ishiba Shigeru, despite being perhaps the most enthusiastic of the potential candidates, backed down earlier this week as Tanigaki Sadakazu gathered support from party elders.

Tanigaki, at sixty-four the oldest candidate in the race, faces two forty-six-year-old rivals, Kono Taro and Nishimura Yasutoshi. Kono is the articulate, intelligent, American-educated son of now-retired LDP elder statesman Kono Yohei; Nishimura is a three-term representative from Hyogo and former METI official. Neither of the younger candidates has ministerial experience, although Kono is renown for his policy expertise and has been parliamentary vice ministery of justice as well as chairman of the lower house foreign affairs committee (and has served five terms to Nishimura's three). Nishimura meanwhile is a former Machimura faction member, but half of his endorsements came from Machimura faction members.

As a result the race is not surprisingly being cast as a clash of generations: Tanigaki, not necessarily old but older and backed by the party's old guard, against Kono, scion of an old LDP family but brimming with policy ideas and reformist zeal, with Nishimura unlikely to cut into Kono's vote. For his part Tanigaki is trying to bridge generations by presenting himself as the most viable reform candidate, not the cat's paw of the factions.

The race is more unpredictable than it appeared after Tanigaki entered the race with the backing of senior party leaders, because the race will be decided not by the party's 199 Diet members but by the 300 votes wielded by prefectural chapters. A Yomiuri poll found Tanigaki and Kono running virtually even, with Tanigaki leading Kono 34% to 33%, with Nishmura receiving the support of a mere 2%. (Yamamoto Ichita, a Kono supporter, is heartened by these numbers.)

Were Kono to win, it would be a sign that LDP supporters are ready for the party to move in a new direction, even if the party's Diet members are more reluctant to do so. But electing Kono is also risky. While he would no doubt be more enthusiastic about reorganizing the party — for example along the lines proposed by the party revival council, which most notably called for the end of factions despite having said it would soften its position on the factions — he would probably have a harder time than Tanigaki getting party elders to commit to even modest reforms. He may be a more formidable challenger for the DPJ on policy terms, given Kono's policy expertise and seeing as how Tanigaki may be closest to the DPJ in terms of policy preferences. But it is difficult to see how Kono could succeed in remaking a party that after the election is top heavy in terms of the ratio of old to young. It would be all too easy party elders to resist Kono when it comes to fundamental reform. The election of Kono would bear at least superficial resemblance to the DPJ's election of Maehara Seiji following the disastrous 2005 election — resulting in Maehara's equally disastrous stint as party leader. Kono would not necessarily make the same political errors that doomed Maehara, but he would likely face even more daunting obstacles than Maehara faced.

A majority of the public expects that the LDP will be able to fix itself and remain the second pole in a two-party system. The problem in the party leadership election is that while Kono's election would have greater symbolism as a break with the past (despite his lineage), Tanigaki might be more capable of moving the LDP even modestly in a new direction. Nevertheless, LDP members have two good choices before them, and both represent a step forward for a party that in recent years has been characterized mostly by its distance from the concerns of the Japanese people.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tanigaki as the compromise candidate

For the second time in three months, an effort by younger LDP members to lead the party in a different direction has run out of steam not long after getting started.

Ishihara Nobuteru (52), the last hope of the LDP's younger members, bowed out of the upcoming LDP presidential election on Saturday, clearing the way for Tanigaki Sadakazu (64), who has entered the race as the preferred candidate of the party's elders. Tanigaki will likely face Ishiba Shigeru and possibly Kono Taro (46), who has expressed interest in running and is undoubtedly a rising star in the party but is perhaps too young to assemble a winning coalition in time for this month's election. If the LDP is going to change, it won't be as the result of generational change within the party.

The LDP's "Rebirth Council," discussed here, has already backed away from harsh criticism of the factions and their leaders. If anything, the demographics favor the LDP's elders. 40% of the party's winners are over 60, the average age of the party's Diet members rose to 56.6, and Diet members who have won seven or more elections outnumber those who have won one to three elections 38 to 30, with the remaining 51 having won between four and six elections. In other words, too many leaders, not enough followers — and the leaders are not about to bow to the followers.

What of the prospects for party reform should Tanigaki win, and given the number of votes given to party chapters his victory is far from assured? Probably modest at best. The gist of Tanigaki's remarks is that he will try to please everyone as the party prepares for next year's upper house election: the young have a role to play, the factions should not be dissolved but should play a different role, and senior leaders should spend more time traveling the country speaking with voters. As Jun Okumura suggests, having the dovish Tanigaki as opposition leader might signal less of a policy departure than meets the eye: Amari Akira, a member of Aso's cabinet and one of the outgoing prime minister's lieutenants, said Friday that Tanigaki is the right man for the job. Yamamoto Ichita, one of the party's young reformists, would prefer a generational change but had nice things to say about Tanigaki's qualities as a politician.

Tanigaki would soften the party's image, but it seems unlikely that he would demand much or receive much in the way of internal reorganization. Tanigaki strikes me as the candidate of as little change as the party elders perceive as necessary for the LDP to retake power. By comparison, Ishiba is offering something more radical — he is not, for example, holding back from labeling the factions as outdated.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Who will lead the LDP?

Masuzoe Yoichi, the upper house member who I recently listed as the obvious front runner in the race to replace Aso Taro as LDP president, said Wednesday that he would not seek the position.

Masuzoe cited his responsibility as a member of the ruling cabinet for the party's defeat as his reason for not seeking the position — although Jiji suggests that Masuzoe's candidacy faced opposition from within the party, not surprisingly given that Masuzoe has been stubbornly independent even as an LDP member. (Incidentally, it is worth recalling as Masuzoe prepares to leave office that he actually managed to serve in the same post from the reshuffled Abe cabinet in August 2007 — which he joined after criticizing the prime minister following the upper house election defeat — until the present, a remarkable run considering the circumstances.)

Masuzoe was joined by Koike Yuriko in bowing out from the race: the former defense minister said Wednesday that she would not seek the post for the second year in a row, citing her weakened status as a "zombie" politician, in the Diet only by virtue of proportional representation after losing her seat.

Ishihara Nobuteru, another potential front runner, remains noncommittal about running in the race.

For those who ultimately decide to run, it will be a harder race — and harder to ascertain the outcome in advance. To compensate for the dramatic decline in the number of LDP Diet members, the LDP will give its prefectural chapters 300 votes in the election. The chapters will each receive a minimum of three votes, with the remaining 159 votes distributed proportionally on the basis of the number of votes in a chapter. Combined with the 200 votes of Diet members, 500 votes will determine the next LDP president.

Between the decline of the factions and the tremendous power that will be wielded by the prefectural chapters, the outcome will be difficult to predict. But given the manner in which the prefectural votes will be distributed, the race could be won by a candidate popular in urban areas capable of getting (presumably discouraged) party members in populous prefectures out to vote in large numbers.

It appears as if we are witnessing the birth pangs of a new LDP. Nakagawa Hidenao, renewing his fight to make a new LDP, writes that the first step to the LDP's rebirth is the dissolution of the factions. Whether or not they are officially dissolved, the age of factional politics appears at an end. Instead we will be witnessing a renewed period of ideological conflict within the LDP, conflict that will often fall along geographical lines. As a member of the former Tanigaki faction now in the Koga faction said, since Koizumi's bid to make the LDP an urban party destroyed the party's provincial base, the next LDP leader ought not to come from an urban district. It seems to me that this kind of thinking assumes that it is possible to resurrect the "conservative kingdoms," if only the LDP reorients itself to a rural base, ignoring the mounting evidence that in the present age floating voters are everywhere — and that Komeito has become an indispensable LDP support group, which happens to be closer to the DPJ in policy terms, is in even worse straits than the LDP after its entire leadership went down to absolute defeat Sunday thanks to the decision not to run simultaneously for PR seats, and is publicly reconsidering the nature of its partnership with the LDP.

It seems that perhaps the most essential quality for the LDP's next leader is the ability and willingness to work closely with Komeito on a new path to power, lest the party forfeit even more support than it already has.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The LDP has an election date

Aso Taro has resigned his post as party president and the LDP has scheduled its party leadership for four weeks from today, 28 September. The campaign for the party presidency will officially begin ten days earlier, on 18 September, giving the candidates just over two weeks to make their intentions known and then begin traveling the country to make their appeals to the party's chapters.

Safe to say, the race is wide open. Given that Masuzoe Yoichi is just about the most popular politician in Japan and the only LDP politician candidates wanted to be seen with, he probably has the upper hand in the race for the 141 votes wielded by the LDP's prefectural chapters — if he decides to run. His position may be weaker, however, among the party's Diet members, who now number 202 betweens the two houses. The list of names in the LDP field could be lengthy, and the race chaotic. Masuzoe has said that he is a blank slate as to whether to run, and in the meantime plans to focus on his work as a cabinet minister. Tanigaki Sadakazu might run once again.

Given that the race won't officially begin until 18 September, it is likely that the party will be choosing its leader after Hatoyama Yukio is officially elected as prime minister, which will presumably occur a few days earlier.

The path to a New Liberal Democratic Party

Fresh after barely escaping with his political life, Nakagawa Hidenao — who you will recall failed to unseat Aso Taro as LDP leader in July and then stressed that the DPJ would destroy Japan and had to be stopped — has announced that he wants to stand in the election to succeed Aso as LDP leader.

Nakagawa is nothing if not pugnacious, which might be a good quality to have as leader of the opposition, but by the same token his pugnaciousness has not endeared him to other members of the LDP. And it is unclear whether there are enough members of his so-called "Rising Tide" school to propel him onward to victory, let alone in the party's prefectural chapters. But given the disarray within the LDP, he should have plenty of time to campaign around the country in the hope that he can win on the back of support from the party's grassroots.

Presumably the field will also include Ishiba Shigeru — Ishiba has in fact already indicated that he will run — and Ishihara Nobuteru, both candidates from last year, and possibly upper house member Masuzoe Yoichi. And I expect the field to get even more crowded before too long.

Either of the latter might be better at uniting a broken party, because that, after all, is the primary task facing the party's next leader. I don't just mean broken from the election, but broken at its very core, divided among ideological camps, factions, and policy tribes. The new leader will have to reforge the LDP as a top-down, centralized party. He (or she?) will have to remake the party's institutions, perhaps copying the DPJ by turning the general council into a Next Cabinet, converting the policy research council into a party think tank that depends more on ties to academics and researchers outside government than the bureaucrats upon which the PRC has long depended, and perhaps setting up a troika-style system of collective leadership that will enable to party leadership to push back against backbenchers — no matter how senior — inclined to disregard the party. In the process, the LDP, very much like the DPJ during the early part of this decade, will have to navigate between the options of unflinching resistance to the governing DPJ and "constructive" opposition to the government. How long before commentators begin discussing how the LDP is nothing but an internally divided, pale imitation of the governing DPJ? But such is the nature of two-large-party systems in modern democracies, especially in Europe, although if Nakagawa wins the party leadership the LDP's opposition to the DPJ might be a bit more foam-flecked, like the US Republican Party's opposition to the Obama administration.

The LDP clearly has a path back to power, sooner or later. The faster it gets on with the process of becoming a new model party, the shorter that road will be. I, for one, do not expect the road to be short.