Sunday, September 07, 2008

Can the Faction Leaders Deny Mr. Aso Victory? Highly Unlikely

CORR. 10 September: The 141 local chapter voters will vote in the second-round runoff as well. My mistake. Paradoxically, as a result, I may have to scale back my estimate of the extent of the empowerment of the locals. Let me think it over.
My mind may be clouded by the fact that I am already committed to the proposition that Taro Aso is going to win the LDP election. With that caveat…
There’s a speculative piece on the Sankei website that among other things raises the possibility of faction leaders seeking to maintain their power by managing the voting for the LDP Presidency in a two-candidate runoff. Its reasoning goes like this:
A five-way split of the votes between the likely candidates (Taro Aso, Yuriko Koike, Kaoru Yosano, Nobuteru Ishihara, and Shigeru Ishiba—the media appear to be skeptical about Yasufumi Tanahashi and Ichita Yamamoto meeting the 20-Diet member minimum requirement) may deny Mr. Aso an outright majority of the 528 eligible voters (141 local delegates; 387 Diet members) in the first round of voting. This will throw the election into a top-two runoff by a vote among the 387 Diet members only. At this point, faction leaders will try to reassert their authority in the horse-trading for votes by promises of cabinet and party posts.
I can’t imagine anything that would do a better job of driving away uncommitted voters (whose weight BTW I had been substantially overestimating; but that’s for another time) and bringing the collective wrath of the media on their heads. The local chapters, already unhappy that they are being denied the full 300 votes in a regularly scheduled election, will be beside themselves with anger as well. No doubt nothing would make the DPJ happier. For these reasons, I don’t see it happening unless Mr. Aso manages only a weak plurality against a strong second-place finisher in the local voting—a very low probability scenario in its own right. The following is a highly otaku update on the nuts and bolts that illustrates this point.

All 47 prefectural chapters have committed to selecting their three delegates each through popular vote by eligible voters (local party members and “party friends”. Of these, as of yesterday (6 September), 27 said that they would use the D'Hondt method, a form of proportional voting that in this case gives: 1) the first-place candidate all three electoral votes when he beats the second-place candidate by a margin of more than three to one; 2) the first-place candidate two electoral votes and the second-place candidate one if the first-place candidate beats the second-place candidate by a margin of less than three to one but beats the third-place candidate by a margin of more than two to one; 3) the top three vote-getters one electoral vote each if the margin between first and third is less than two to one. 12 chapters would hold winner-take-all votes, while 8 were undecided.

Yomiuri and Mainichi each conducted a survey of the LDP prefectural chapter leaders (mostly secretary-generals). 20 (Yomiuri) or 21 (Mainichi) supported Mr. Aso, while Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Ishiba received one voice of support each from Fukui and Tottori respectively. (Mr. Ishiba is a seven-time lower house member from one of Tottori’s two districts.) The other 24 or 25 did not express their preferences, but it is clear that there is currently overwhelming support for Mr. Aso at the prefectural leadership level. There is no assurance that the rank-and-file will follow the wishes of their leaders. Still, given his surprisingly strong showing in the last LDP election—admittedly against the much less glamorous party-establishment candidate Mr. Fukuda—and his relentless paddy-whacking efforts before and after his reappointment as party Secretary-General, it is highly likely that the popular vote will also break sharply his way. The three-votes-each rule means that the boondocks are overrepresented; this too will serve the fiscally more expansive and overall more conservative Mr. Aso well. To add to his luck, the local chapters whose leaders are leaning in his favor tend to favor winner-take-all races.

To complete this guessing game, let’s assume that the popular vote goes the way of the local party leaders. Eight of the 12 winner-take-all chapters will go to Mr. Aso; that’s 24 electoral votes. For the 12 chapters favoring Mr. Aso that use the D’Hondt method, assume that they give him two electoral votes each. That’s 24 more electoral votes, bringing his total to 48 from 20 chapters. Even if he fails to gain one electoral vote from Fukui or Tottori—they both intend to use the D’Hondt method—he needs only 23 electoral votes out of the 75, or less than a third of the remainder, from the remaining 25 chapters to win an outright majority of the local electoral votes. Unless the local leadership is totally out of touch with the rank-and-file, nothing short of a felony investigation is likely to derail him at the local level.

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