For a while, Taro Aso's ability to take advantage of the local votes for the 3x47 Prefectural electoral votes seemed in doubt. According to the Mainichi article (I first saw this link on Japan Observer but hadn't read it at the time), voting in the 37 Prefectural chapters that have elected to hold plebiscites (the article says that the number will reach 40) would mainly use a form of proportional voting called the D'Hondt method that essentially requires Mr. Aso in a given Prefecture to outpoll Yasuo Fukuda by more than three to one in order to sweep the three electoral votes. Moreover, four Prefectures would limit suffrage to Prefectural assemblypersons, local chapter heads (mostly though not exclusively Lower House Diet members) and other party worthies.
This did not look good for Mr. Aso, who wants to make an overwhelming showing in the initial battle for the 141 electoral votes available in the Prefectures.
But that was then. Today, Nobuteru Ishihara, the current LDP Policy and Research Council Chairman, appeared on Sunday Project and disclosed that the Tokyo and 7 other Prefectural chapters in the neighborhood (ed. I think he said "7 other Prefectural chapters in the neighborhood", but I can't be absolutely sure; I may have to correct this when the newspapers get around to reporting it) had decided to hold winner-take-all votes, and would announce the matter the following day. This is significant for several reasons:
First, winner-take-all is the preferred method for Mr. Aso, the underdog who desperately needs the momentum from a powerful, even overwhelming, showing in the Prefectural chapters, who enjoys all the upside benefits and assumes none of the downside risks from a lopsided outcome in the Kanto Plains and its environs.
Second, the media is concentrated in Tokyo. A victory there and its environs will receive far more attention than a victory in the outlying Prefectures, because Tokyo is where most of the reporters and camera crews hang out and political leaders make themselves available for sound bites.
Third, the fact that Mr. Ishihara – conveniently the head of the Tokyo chapter - was able to convince his Kanto cohorts to go along with a procedure that clearly benefits Mr. Aso could be an indication of where the sentiments of those chapter leaders lie. For his part, Mr. Ishihara is clearly an Aso sympathizer, so his high-minded (and yes truthful) explanation of the decision - that's the way the election should be held in the first place - should be taken with a grain of salt.
If Mr. Aso captures a sizeable majority in the Prefectures, it will look awkward for the LDP Diet members to deny him victory in the final tally. And his chances for just such an outcome will be substantially improved if Mr. Ishihara's strategy bears fruit.
If Mr. Aso manages to make a strong showing but not good enough to put himself over the top, Mr. Fukuda will have some extra ground to make up in the legitimacy column when he assumes the Prime Minister's chair. The Mentor tells me that such a turn of events is likely to cause long-term damage his standing with the local activists who have benefited in recent years from the high-profile campaigning efforts of Mr. Aso, in contrast to the far less visible Mr. Fukuda.
A same-day (Sunday) Asahi report says that 35 Prefectural chapters have decided to hold preliminary votes by all local party members. 19 are opting for proportional allocation (presumably by the D'Hondt method) of the three electoral votes, while 9 have chosen winner-takes-all.
Incidentally, Mr. Aso appeared far more prepared and articulate than Mr. Fukuda on Sunday Project. Mr. Aso has been on the main stage with few interruptions since the Koizumi administration while Mr. Fukuda, since he resigned as Prime Minister Koizumi's Chief Cabinet Secretary in May 2004, surfaced only briefly, and elusively at that, during his non-candidacy to succeed Prime Minister Koizumi. And it showed.