In case you haven't checked out the usual suspects (Shisaku must be busy today), Fukushiro Nukaga dropped out because most of his fellow members in the Tsushima faction (67 members) threw their support behind Yasuo Fukuda. The Machimura (80), Niwa-Koga (46), Yamazaki (38), Ibuki (25), and Nikai (16) factions also decided to support Mr. Fukuda, leaving the Komura faction (15) as the only one that has not made up its mind yet. Thus, Mr. Aso's support among the 387 Diet member voters is limited to his own faction's 15 members, some of the 69 unaligned members, plus whomever he can pry away from the other factions. There may be some hope for him in the 47 Prefectural chapters, with three votes each, where several secretary-generals have expressed a preference for Mr. Aso. However, most of the chapters are chaired by locally elected Lower House members, many if not most belonging to one faction or other. Thus, unless a significant number hold popular elections and Mr. Aso sweeps all or most of them, the boost he receives here will be very limited.
What is most striking to me is the swiftness and thoroughness of the shift towards Mr. Fukuda. I can't wait for the story to emerge, as it surely will, if only to have a better idea of how factions function today. Meanwhile, I'm left to wonder why. Are they trying to exorcise every last vestige of the Abe administration? Do they fear that a one-man, verbal gaffe machine will pick up where Abe's Cabinet choices left off?
In any case, the resurrection of the moderate, China-friendly Mr. Fukuda makes warnings of a revisionist surge in Japan ring hollow. Staying in power is what unites the LDP, and they've decided that a Fukuda administration works.
Immediate policy implications should be minor. A new counter-terrorism act will be passed by a supermajority revote, now in late November at the earliest, the refueling ships will return to the Indian Ocean, and life will go on without a new general election for the better part of next year, possibly more. The chastened LDP-New Komeito coalition will, however, be reluctant to exercise their supermajority on other issues, lest the media join the opposition in accusations of tyranny of the majority. Instead, it will do its best to maintain good relationships with the opposition and muddle along the best it can. Beyond that, I'll wait for the new Prime Minister's first speech, and his list of Ministers. It's remarkable how little I know of Mr. Fukuda's views. Further down the line, the evolution of the policy and political processes evolve through the cohabitation Diet period - it may last three years, until the 2010 Upper House election - will be a fascinating thing to watch.