Friday, September 05, 2008

More, More, More, Said the Media… and the LDP Obliges… What It All Means

I thought that I’d given you all the names of the suspects. Silly me. It turns out that Kunio Hatoyama (59) was never in it in the first place—he’s supporting prohibitive favorite Taro Aso (almost 68)—Sadakazu Tanigaki (63) never got his wagon train rumbling, and Taro Kono (45; mentioned in aside) didn’t find enough people to take him seriously. But…
Yasufumi Tanahashi (45); possibly the most influential leader of the LDP youth movement
Taichi Yamamoto (50); very popular, very articulate*
Shigeru Ishiba (51); popular go to guy on national security
all decided to throw their hats in the ring. Meanwhile, Fukushiro Nukaga (64), giving up hope of obtaining 20 signatures from his co-factionmates, consolidated his perennial almost-ran status.

* Mr. Yamamoto is an interesting phenomenon because he is still an upper house member, so he has zero chance of being elected LDP president. He is clearly positioning himself to move to the lower house and becoming a true Prime Minister candidate.

The immediate effect of all this has been to take some of the the wind out of Yuriko Koike’s (56) sails. The nomadic Ms. Koike’s hopes had been to run her banner up the the Koizumian reformist pole, provide a nice, youthful contrast to Mr. Aso (and the newly septuagenarian Kaoru Yosano) and likely use the occasion to build a real power base for the next spin around the tracks. With three new younger reformists in the ring in addition to the seasoned but still youthful Nobuteru Ishihara (51), she appears to be running into trouble corralling the 20 signatures necessary to put her name on the ballot—already a somewhat risky proposition, given her lack of backbench/rank-and-file support.

All this also generates a little uncertainty for Mr. Aso. All these candidates—assuming they manage to collect 20 signatures each, no certainty there—on the local prefectural ballots will inevitably take some of the popular vote away from Mr. Aso. Although Mr. Aso may, in a piece of political irony, do better on the 141 electoral votes as the result of a wider distribution of the non-Aso popular vote, the results of the popular vote will not be lost on the Diet members, who will feel more free to vote on the candidates of their choice, of whom there are now more to choose from. I still believe that Mr. Aso will win the nomination on the first ballot, but I now see the (admittedly very faint) possibility that the vote will go to a runoff, in which case anything can happen.

In any case, youth will have been heard. We have seen the future, and it is them. That perhaps is the point of it all for the newbie candidates.

All this, of course, is a problem for the DPJ, where Ichiro Ozawa is running unopposed for reelection as party leader. Mr. Aso already led Mr. Ozawa 30%-8% as the best candidate for next Prime Minister, in a 2-3 September Asahi poll of all things. The DPJ leadership had already reacted poorly to the upcoming LDP race, allowing Yukio Hatoyama to publicly voice concern over the LDP monopolization of media attention, and later forming a committee (no kidding) to counter the threat, all apparently without a game plan. It is far too early to say that the tide has turned, but the odds have improved for an LDP-New Komeito hold on power in the lower house. The DPJ must be hoping that as few of the new wave as possible will make it on to the LDP ballot.

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