The 21 August Yomiuri carries a district-by-district, bloc-by-bloc account of all 300 single-member-district seats and 180 proportional-representation-bloc seats in the upcoming Lower House election and basically confirms what the other media polls, including the tabloid have been telling us: the DPJ is on its way to a smashing victory, taking over 300 seats, while the LDP will be lucky to wind up with 140 in all. Although the Yomiuri assessment comes with the usual caveat, it is based on a methodologically sound (or so it appears to this layperson), random digit dialing poll with approximately 350 responses in each of the 300 SMDs—Asahi, with less generous bean counters, had settle for half the SMDs then doubling the result to come up with the total—and good old-fashioned legwork, so it probably beats my crystal ball as far as the 30 August outlook is concerned.
In the process, most, if not all, of the LDP elders not named Taro Aso are at best running neck and neck with their DPJ challengers. Case in point: Gumma Prefecture, with its five SMDs. In District 1, 76 year-old PR bloc incumbent Koji Omi, alternating with the LDP’s SMD incumbent, who is taking Omi’s place as the top-ranked candidate on the LDP’s PR bloc list, is running neck and neck with the DPJ’s 48 year-old PR bloc incumbent. In District 2, 73 year-old incumbent Yakashi Sasagawa is trailing the DPJ’s 37 year-old PR bloc incumbent. In District 3, 75 year-old incumbent Yoshio Yatsu is trailing the DPJ’s 43 year-old challenger. In District 4, 73 year-old Yasuo Fukuda—second generation Prime Minister!—is running neck and neck with the 44 year-old DPJ challenger. Only in District 5 does the LDP incumbent have a clear road to victory—the code phrase appears to be: antei shita tatakai—the 35 year-old Yuko Obuchi, whose main challenger is a 72-year old Social Democrat running (poorly) with DPJ support.
Obuchi and her SDP challenger bring to mind one other LDP who is doing the antei shita tatakai thing—70 year-old Yamagata District 3 incumbent Koichi Kato, whose main challenger is a 61 year-old—you guessed it—SDP challenger running with DPJ support. In fact, whenever you see an LDP candidate not named Taro Aso in the lead in an SMD race, you’ll win a lot of money by betting that the main challenger is an SDP/People’s New Party/New Party Japan candidate running with DPJ support*.
There is one significant LDP elder, though, who is putting up a good fight against his DPJ nemisis—71 year-old Kaoru Yosano is in a dead heat against 60 year-old Banri Kaieda. This is remarkable because Yosano has an unwanted reputation as a weak campaigner and does not hold a seat in the old-Tokyo shitamachi neighborhoods, and has a record of 2 wins, 2 losses in 3 races against Kaieda to support his critics. One LDP candidate in Tokyo who trails her DPJ opponent but who is given a fighting chance by Yomiuri—the code term is “ippo riido” for the DPJ candidate—is 48 year-old Yukari Sato, a PR bloc incumbent who lost out in Gifu District 1 to incumbent and Post Office Penitent Seiko Noda (who ironically is trailing her yuui ni tatakai wo susumeteiru DPJ challenger rather badly) and had to parachute in to Tokyo District 5.
From these and more general observations, a composite picture emerges of the ideal LDP candidate: a youthful, photogenic figure with recognizable policy chops and favorable national media exposure—whose main opponent happens to be an SDP/PNP/NPJ candidate running with DPJ support.
Of course LDP elders are by no means a doomed species. Even if they lose, they can make it back by way of their PR bloc candidacies. But it helps to remember that the path will be narrower this time around. For example, in Hokkaido, Yomiuri gives the LDP only 2 PR bloc seats, while claiming that Nobutaka Machimura (64 year-old Machimura faction leader and putative Prime Minister candidate), Shoichi Nakagawa (56 years-old, but 8 terms and multiple cabinet and party leadership appointments under his belt) and Tsutomu Takebe (68 year-old Koizumi right-hand man and Koizumi kids mentor) all trail trial their DPJ challengers. Besides, authority will be harder to exercise when you’ve snuck back in through the backdoor and are facing the prospects of going up in your late 60s and 70s against a much younger incumbent at the next opportunity.
So what will the post-haircut LDP look like according to the Yomiuri, in the event that it is unable to defy the polls in the actual voting? A band of about 90 proven (SMD) winners and 50 (PR bloc) half-losers, and 150 outright losers making new plans for the next 3-4 years—or the rest of their lives. And you know what? There won’t be a place in the new ruling coalition for them. If I had to place a bet, I would put it on a united (by necessity) LDP picking itself up under a taint-free, relatively youthful Yoichi Masuzoe. To think, one year ago, I would never have said that.
* Koichi Kato is one party elder who is lapping the SDP opposition