Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mr. Fukuda Is the Next Prime Minister

Just before the vote, the newscaster divulges the outcome of the Prefectural chapter votes; Yasuo Fukuda has a comfortable though not overwhelming 76 to 65 edge. So there goes the last vestige of what little suspense remained, and you have what must be the most boring secret vote in TV history, if you want to watch.

Yes, secret vote. Imagine; the LDP Diet members, mostly men, grown ups all (there's you-know-who, but otherwise), are afraid to stand up and be counted.

Final tally: Fukuda 330, Aso 197 (one vote is void). So the Diet members went: Fukuda 254, Aso 132.

note: For what it's worth, the Yomiuri survey of the Diet members had given Mr. Fukuda 263 votes as of yesterday.

Mr. Aso must be feeling wistful; at 67, this is very likely his last hurrah, unless Mr. Fukuda fails badly and the LDP needs a caretaker Prime Minister for an early general election. Still, in an uphill battle against most of the leadership in the factions, he has fought a good fight, made a very respectable showing, yet has not quite embarrassed Mr. Fukuda either. This makes it easier for everybody to kiss and make up; in fact, they'll have to.

Mr. Fukuda delivers a brief speech, appropriately humble, thankful, determined. He tells the audience… Wait, are they… Yes, those are Diet members, arms extended, snapping I-Was-There pictures on their cell phones… The new LDP President tells the audience that he wants to revive an LDP in deep difficulties with everybody's help and recover public confidence in it. Later, Mr. Aso joins him on stage; the two greet each other warmly, they all do the customary three banzais for Mr. Fukuda, and suddenly, it's all over.

So, restructuring continues, with a human face. Achieving primary balance by FY 2011 is still in, and expanding public works is still out. Combine this with his dovish outlook, and we have a Koga-Tanigaki-Yamazaki-Koizumi-(yes, Koizumi)-friendly Prime Minister on deck. Mr. Fukuda will fill out his statecraft package when he delivers his first policy statement address; after he is elected Prime Minister by the Diet and anointed by the Emperor, and assembles his Cabinet. (He is expected to maintain all or most of the main players there; which is unlikely for the party leadership, beginning with Mr. Aso, the Secretary-General.) I only wish that I'll have something interesting to say when he does that.

The first item on the Prime Minister to-do list is, of course, pushing a counter-terrorism extension bill. Mr. Fukuda has steadfastly refused to say that he'll resort to the supermajority override. I firmly believe that this is merely part of the LDP charm offensive, beginning right after the Upper House election, when Nobutaka Machimura and other party worthies talked up the DPJ and even hinted at a Grand Coalition. This has continued with Mr. Fukuda's repeated talk of a negotiated Lower House dissolution (hanashiai kaisan)and general election, depending on prevailing sentiment after the FY 2008 budget is passed. (I still believe that it won't happen until well into the summer, and possibly later.) When the moment comes, however, he will, reluctantly and with no ill will of course, pull the trigger.

ADD. Mr. Fukuda has been elected to complete Mr. Abe's term as LDP President, which ends on 30 September 2009. According to party rules, he can (theoretically) serve two full three-year terms after that.

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