Thursday, May 14, 2009

DPJ Election Update: Okada Rising

I suppose Junichiro Koizumi’s upset victory over Ryutaro Hashimoto in the 2001 LDP presidential race started it all, but whenever the LDP is about to elect a new president, mainstream dailies dial up the deputy heads of prefectural party chapters—the heads are usually Diet members, so their views do not necessarily reflect the wishes of the local chapter rank-and-file—to ask whom they favor and print the prefecture-by-prefecture results. The influence of the rank-and-file LDP party members has reached the point where a considerable number of Diet members will at least take the local votes into consideration when casting their own votes. Now, after electing it three previous leaders elected by acclaim, DPJ, with its Hatoyama-Okada showdown, is undergoing the same treatment.

The DPJ locals are clearly less used to flexing their muscle through media exposure, and none of the polls reflect the views of more than a third of the prefectural chapters. (Off the top of my head, I’d say that two-thirds or more of the LDP chapter deputy heads will let us know whom they favor.) Moreover, the results are wildly uneven, even though they all appear to have contacted the same person in each of the 47 chapters. Still, for your benefit:
Asahi: Okada 9, Hatoyama 8
Yomiuri: Okada 13, Hatoyama 4
Sankei: Okada 9, Hatoyama 3
Mainichi: Okada 8, Hatoyama 3 (overlooked; added 15 May)
Iffy as the figures look, it seems that Okada is ahead with regard to the deputy heads who are not afraid to speak up. The online Mainichi online does not have a tally. However, just as important if not more so to the Lower House members (as well as other candidates) who must face an election in the coming months, Mainichi conducted an unscheduled national public opinion poll, in which Okada led the field with 25% to Hatoyama’s 13%. (Naoto Kan, Seiji Maehara and Akira Nagatsuma came in third, fourth and fifth with 12%, 8%, and 5% respectively.) Even the photos accompanying the Mainichi report—glum Hatoyama and radiant Okada—can’t resist editorializing, it seems.

Perhaps it was with this in mind that Tastuo Kawabata reportedly threw his support to Katsuya Okada this morning (14 May). This must be devastating to Hatoyama. On good terms with both Ozawa and Okada, Kawabata represents the 20 or so Diet members from former Democratic Socialists on the DPJ leadership council as one of the seven Deputy Presidents (outranked by three Honorary Advisors, the President, and two Acting Presidents but nominally outranking Hatoyama, the Secretary-General). There is no indication that he can actually carry the old DS vote, but he did make his announcement at the group’s morning get-together. Meanwhile, Naoto Kan’s group, in keeping with its leader’s arm’s-length approach to Ozawa, has released its members to vote their conscience. This has the looks of a surge for Okada. The question is: Are two days enough time for him to catch up?

Some worry that a split along faction boundaries—80 from Ozawa and Hatoyama’s groups vs. 50 from Maehara and Noda’s, while the rest scramble to balance the imperatives of their personal ties against those of their electoral prospects—will create a rift, particularly if Ozawa (and his closest associates) see a Hatoyama loss as a personal rejection. I don’t think that will happen, not to the extent that it will be a drag in the Lower House election. It’s the recriminations that will come if they lose or fail to form a stable working majority that the DPJ must be afraid of. All the more desirable it is then, to heed public opinion (even if it is to a great extent a media construct), as well as position itself to welcome post-election LDP splittists—the latter factor also favoring Okada.

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