Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Update on the LDP Dissenters; Plus, Why the DPJ Isn’t Winning

It’s looking increasingly difficult for the LDP to survive the upcoming general election in the Lower House and face the next general election—the next Upper House election takes place in 2010, but may be preceded by yet another Lower House election if the results of the upcoming one does not work out politically—in its current shape. Fifty-something would-be leaders are increasingly vocal in their opposition to the status quo; now, a couple of sexagenarian heavyweights, former top PM candidate Koichi Kato and eponymous faction leader Taku Yamazaki, are openly consorting with the enemy—Post Office exile Shizuka Kamei and DPJ number two/three Naoto Kan—all but endorsing realignment after the Lower House election. Hidenao Nakagawa, Junichiro Koizumi’s party deputy during the latter’s PR days, is another sexagenarian who is bucking the party’s tattered establishment. Other faction leaders—Bunmei Ibuki, Makoto Koga and Nobutaka Machimura—have put aside their differences to rail against the voices of the insurgency, and the still-influential ex-Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori has also lent his voice to the orthodoxy with angry calls for one for all and all for one. But

Now, for the sake of argument, a case could be made that the dissent is merely tactical; having distanced themselves from the embarrassing string of feckless PMs, the objectors may be hoping to first use that to their personal advantage in the Lower House election, then sweep in to take the reins of party power in the aftermath. After all, PM Koizumi successfully used that run-against-your-own-party trick on a massive scale in the 2005 Lower House general election. But that’s most unlikely. Either the LDP-New Komeito coalition maintains the majority, which leaves dissenters with the choice between remaining a minority voice in the status quo and breaking out to pursue realignment; or it is relegated to minority status, and bitter recriminations break out both ways. Either way, I think that they must pursue their complaints to their logical conclusion, which leads to the exit.

If there’s anything that gives hope to the ruling coalition, though, it’s the fact that even as the LDP is losing, the DPJ is not winning either. In fact, it’s quite possible that neither the ruling coalition nor the DPJ will be able to muster a majority, leaving the door open to a variety of coalitions, realignments, and other permutations that make the ultimate outcome of the next Lower House election the most difficult one to speculate about since the 1955 political big bang that created the LDP (and the now-almost defunct for all practical purposes Socialist Party).

Incidentally, I’ve tended to blame the unpopularity of the DPJ on the public antipathy towards its mostly unappealing leader Ichiro Ozawa. There’s that, but more fundamentally, it has failed to come up with a plausible alternative in the face of the financial meltdown that has mutated into a full-blown, global economic crisis. The lack of technocratic expertise on the part of Ozawa and his confidantes and the lack of ideological coherence on the part of the party as a whole are making it difficult for them show much flexibility beyond the items in the preprogrammed manifesto-plus or to push the agenda when it does, as in the case of its thoughtful if somewhat wonkish financial-sector stabilization package evidenced here as part of its November economic rescue kit. The DPJ is not creating separation between itself and the shopworn LDP, and it shows in the polls.

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