Thursday, September 04, 2008

It’s Now or Never for Yuriko Koike

Yuriko Koike must stand for the LDP Presidential election, and I think that she will. She’ll lose, but it doesn’t matter; it’s her only chance to become Prime Minister. Someday. And when it’s fight or flee, she fights. Let me explain:

Yuriko Koike has latched on to a succession of political leaders; that’s how she’s made it to here. The downside of this nomadic career path is that she lacks a readymade group of Diet members to support her, and has failed to built up street cred with the LDP ward heelers (rice-planting experience with paddywhackers?). With her political clock ticking—she is 56—it’s time for her to make a move. The LDP leadership race and the sooner-rather-than-later Lower House election give her an opportunity to satisfy both her needs.

Everybody realizes that this LDP election is Taro Aso’s to lose, and the campaign period—12-22 September—is too brief to expect Mr. Aso to make a gaffe big enough to blow it all. But what’s the use of an uncontested election? The LDP will benefit from the media buzz from a clean fight, while the DPJ will struggle to keep itself in the media’s inbox. So, with little to lose and a lot to gain, the LDP will welcome an internal challenge; all she has to do to erase any lingering resentment is to act the gracious loser and vow to do everything to return the ruling coalition to power. In the meantime, she has established herself as the babyface of the Koizumian movement.

And work she will, since she is—assuming that she follows my advice—going to campaign in the Lower House election for all first-termers, the Koizumi kids, who want her to swing her chariot their way. Let’s say that only one-third of the 83 Koizumi children make it back and that she has gone to bat for all of them. That’s 28 Lower House Diet members who will be indebted to her. If half of them decide to support her post-Aso, add her seat to the mix and, right there, that’s 15 in the Lower House alone—more or less the size of a starter-pack LDP faction.

Helping others while neglecting her own campaign could be costly. But the extended attention in the national media that she will draw for her efforts should make up for some of the touchy-feely time that she will be unable to devote to her local constituency. And if she does wind up losing her own seat, she becomes a martyr. Regain her seat in another two, three years, and the people—and their local-yokel volunteers and assemblymen—that she helped out will be even more beholden to her.

At least that’s the way I see the value of this race. Or rather, the way—I think—that a risk-tolerant politician is likely to see it.


Jan Moren said...

Don't count out Aso, though. He is prone to verbal gaffes even at the best of times and he is lusting for the PM job enough that his erection is visible from space^H^H^H^H^H he is bursting at the seams. The only way he could have been faster declaring his candidacy would have been if he'd gone up on the podium during Fukuda's resignation speech and wrestled the mike from him to declare that why yes, he would in fact not be completely averse to put the good of the party over his own doubts and stand as candidate in the election.

Ten frustrating, endless high-pressure days with his life ambition - a goal that has eluded him twice already - still just not quite in his grasp and with media providing around-the-clock coverage of every utterance. It is his election to lose, but he is entirely capable of doing so.

Jun Okumura said...


I note that there is a particularly strong resistance to Mr. Aso among liberal foreigners, who do not vote in Japanese elections. In any case, his gaffes have never been big enough to derail him throughout his career and are highly unlikely to do so during the brief LDP presidential campaign. In his verbal mishaps, he tends to give public voice to the politically incorrect thinking—prejudice against gaijin is a colorful and not insignificant part of this mish-mash of conventional wisdom, prejudice, and urban legends—that takes place in daily Japanese life and does so in the vernacular that is part of his man-in-the-street charm. In fact, he reminds me somewhat of another popular LDP leader, the deceased Michio Watanabe. Watanabe lite, if you will.

But the media (and the public as well I suppose) demands more decorum and dignity of a prime minister. The same verbal transgressions will have greater and long-lasting effects than those of run-of-the-mill cabinet ministers. So it is after he becomes prime minister that the real trial begins.

Jan Moren said...

I was thinking of the political gaffes he's done, like referring to Taiwan as an independent country. Not a good thing when it comes from a member of the cabinet and especially from the foreign minister. As prime minister the wiggle room is gone - he basically can't speak in a private capacity. When he speaks, it's Japan speaking. Those kind of misstatements can cost a lot at that point, and if he manages to put his foot where it doesn't belong during the campaign he may well remind the LDP voters just how important such a thing can be.

The other statements he's done is, as you say, just par for the course here. It's that thing I wrote about different viewpoints again; such statements are interpreted very differently here and in other places, and it's no use getting all excited about them. Of course, that goes the other way too - when foreign media or politicians portrait Japan in less than favourable light they too do so from a different viewpoint, and easily excitable Japanese commentators could do well to remind themselves of that as well.

As for my own opinion on Mr. Aso (not that it matters of course) - no, from what little I've seen I don't particularly like him. Not because of any policies, not because of any gaffes, and not because he's LDP. I just find the personality he projects to be grating. He carries an air of entitlement, as if it is natural for him to get his way in anything. The kind of person who'd sulk or lash out if anybody would come in his way, and who'd go out of his way to "get even" with people.

My impression may very well be utterly wrong - it's based on only bit and pieces in the media after all - but first impressions, as they say, counts, and that's what we have to base our judgements on.

Jun Okumura said...


I think that you would actually like him if you got to know him personally. I had a few occasions to see him up close when he was the cabinet minister at the old Economic Planning Agency. He didn’t hit me as the sharpest quill on the porcupine, but did come across as a person who was comfortable with who he was and did not feel the need to prove that he was more important than you were. For better or worse, he doesn’t seem to have changed much.

“Taiwan is a …state…” is certainly one of his more memorable gaffes. Now many LDP (and presumably some DPJ) Diet members feel the same way. The problem with Mr. Aso is that he doesn’t let his public office get in the way of his personal views. It’s not a cause for personal enmity (unless in this case if you are mainland Chinese) and much of what he said on that occasion holds some real truths about authoritarian China that American and West European political leaders (but not Japanese ones) often express. But it was not something that a Japanese Foreign Minister should have said, and he should have known that. Of course it’s not the kind of thing that will come out in the LDP race.

Mary Witzl said...

I'm behind the times here; I only just found out this morning about Fukuda's resignation. Honestly, the thought that Aso might have a shot at becoming Prime Minister of Japan depresses me almost as much as McCain's choice of running mate.

Jun Okumura said...

Ms. Witzl:

So you're the dot on Scotland on my Clustermap. (A humbling experience, that Clustrmap, which would not be a problem with your well-visited blog.)

Mr. Aso's bite is not as bad as his bark. Perhaps you should console yourself with the hope that any gaffes (and the resultant harm to Mr. Aso) will be magnified tenfold under the 24/7 scrutiny that a Prime Minister receives. Or he might clean up his act, with all the minders that he'll have around him. Which may be emotionally less satisfying for you, but better for neighborly relations.