In a recent Yomiuri poll (January 31-Feb.1) Junichiro Koizumi, the ex-Prime Minister who announced his retirement and in the same breath willed his seat to one of his more obscure sons (where will be hearing that story soon, hmm?), places first, but Ichiro Ozawa has opened up a huge gap between himself and the LDP leaders, including the hapless incumbent Taro Aso. The bad news for Ozawa is that he remains mired in the low teens. Ozawa is not winning; Aso is losing, and no one else in the LDP is picking up the slack. This changes little about my views of the political game, even as the incredibly casual, make-it-up-as-we-go-along Aso administration lurches from one unsettling statement to another with potentially enormous consequences for statecraft.
While waiting for some grownups to show and in full awareness that the people responding to this poll may be saying not much more than I’ve seen this guy/lady on TV and I like him/her, let’s see if I can tease a few other facts for your amusement from this poll that the hardcopy version missed.
First, add up the numbers and the LDP still leads the DPJ 35.4% to 22.8% (with others 3.9%, no preference 30.2% and no answer 3.4%). Still, off the top of my head, I can say that the gap has been closed significantly. If this is a portent of voter sentiment come Lower House election time, it is likely that a (relative) majority of the electorate will find it easier to write in the DPJ name on the proportional ballots, just as they did in the penultimate Lower House election. And this time, the DPJ hopes to field the horses to dominate the local races too—not a given, as some of the rides will turn out to hastily trussed up nags—while the LDP candidates hope that incumbency and seditious talk—Koizumi won running against the LDP; maybe we can do the same (if we can figure out what the LDP is these days)—will allow them to keep their seats.
Second, heirloomers outpoll first-generation Diet members 42.0% to 16.2%. Multi-generation Diet members claim four out of the top five places. Support for political reformist Koizumi does not appear to have diminished even after he bequeathed his seat to an offspring with no discernable achievements. The public does not appear to mind Diet members acting like noble in an Ottoman court, at least not in the specific, although powerful elements the DPJ is trying to make it an issue. (Crucially, though, Ozawa himself is likely to harbor dynastic pretentions. It will surprise no one if he stands for election at the last minute in one of the districts in the media-friendly Tokyo neighborhood, leaving no time for his DPJ colleagues to come up with a plausible candidate beside his son.)
Finally, in an apparently simultaneously conducted, joint Yomiuri-Waseda poll had the DPJ now neck-and-neck with the LDP with regard to the ability to rule. Not that they have risen in the eyes of the public in terms of governability; the DPJ is treading water at 50.8% (50.4% in December), but the LDP slipped badly yet again, from 60.7% (67.1%) to 53.0%.
Meanwhile on the policy side, the casualness with which the Prime Minister has dissed Post Office privatization has left me speechless. I mean, can you imagine the Minister who presided over the Post Office if not the privatization process in the Koizumi Cabinet now saying as Prime Minister that he had been opposed to in the first place? In response to a question from the opposition in the Diet? But you see it, so you have to believe it.
This and other flailing and thrashing, mainly but by no means limited to the LDP, would be exceedingly funny if it were not not funny at all. I suspect low voter turnout when they finally hold the election.