I think that Noda stanched the bleeding with his surprise move to dissolve the diet on his own terms. Caught off-guard, Abe scrambled, leaving viewers with the impression of voluble indecisiveness. He has been looking healthier and animated since his cure, but his tendency to over-explain, exposing himself to greater risk of damaging errors and out-of-context quotes, such as happened with Norimitsu Onishi’s “comfort women” article back in the day, remains intact. Abe also has been tacking towards support for TPP negotiations*, but Noda got there first, and more securely to boot. Abe will be minding his words on China, which will severely limit his ability to play the national security card. I still don’t think Noda and the DPJ has much of a chance retaining power—Koizumi for all practical purposes used the Post Office rebels to push the DPJ off center stage; deep-sixing the LDP and the Third Force movements is a very different task. But it’s better than nothing, which is what he would have wound up with if he’d dithered and backed into the snap election to ever diminishing public support. Additional defections certainly hurt though; let’s see how many actually leave.
The Third Force movement will rise as high as an eventual alliance allows them to. Noda’s November surprise actually helps bring the parties together. Since they have little time to continue preparations for running fully national campaigns, they may have no choice but to split up turf and support each other’s single-member district candidates in their respective strongholds. They could actually wind up better off that way. Of course all the maneuvering not to mention the outsized egos involved may wind up making the movements even more unwieldy and divisive than the post-1998 merger DPJ. Ozawa is the odd man out. He’ll try to leverage whatever he has left to navigate his way around the post-election landscape, but I agree with the conventional wisdom that he is a spent force.
In any case, barring a massive post-election realignment, it remains highly likely that 1) either the DPJ-PNP or LDP-Komeito will have a plurality but not a majority in the House of Councilors (HOC); while 2) the Third Force movements will work with an uncompromising eye towards the 2013 HOC election, when half the seats** will be up for grabs, and beyond. In the meantime, the most likely outcome is that the coalition winding up with the fewer seats in the House of Representatives will throw its votes to the other in the second-round run-off for the prime minister’s office. After that, the two sides will be on their best behavior through the upcoming 2012 regular Diet session for tax and social security reform and Diet downsizing, as well as other legislation and approvals for BOJ, FTC and other appointments, while remaining on alert for any errors and weaknesses on the other side to capitalize on. They both need to show that they are constructive and have the nation’s best interests at heart, and their policy positions on major issues are not that far apart. Even nuclear power is not a matter of pure pro- and con-. Besides, the Third Movement forces are unlikely to be willing coalition partners and more trouble than they’re worth if they are. They will see no value in compromising their policy positions to accommodate a minority government.
Speaking of Third Force movements, Hashimoto and your Party always favored TPP negotiations—it helps when you share the same METI and MOF alumni as advisors—and Ishihara has dropped his opposition, most surely in order to join hands with Hashimoto. There’s Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, but he’s less equal than the others, and should come around anyway if that’s the cost of hitching his wagon to a Hashimoto-Ishihara alliance.
* see, for instance, Yomiuri.
** The HOC is all but sure to be downsized as part of the reform process through the 2013 and 2016 elections.