Abe stumbles into more trouble

Fresh off a bruising battle over the readmission of a dozen LDP postal rebels, Mr. Abe has apparently caused an uproar among the party’s caucus in the Upper House of the Diet in suggesting that as the party’s executive nominates candidates for the summer 2007 elections, some sitting LDP members could potentially find themselves replaced by the party, in particular, suggests this article in today’s Yomiuri Shimbun, older LDP members of the Upper House (and members perceived to be vulnerable).

It seems that Mr. Abe can’t buy a break. He goes to the Philippines for summit meetings (and a respite from political troubles at home), and the meetings are canceled due to the approach of Typhoon Utor (although critics of President Arroyo allege otherwise). Then, LDP opposition leads to his proposed reform of road construction spending to become so watered down as to become irrelevant. Now he suggests that the LDP needs to be sure to endorse candidates with a strong change of winning in the 2007 elections, and he faces opposition from the LDP’s caucus in the Upper House.

Mr. Abe is probably right to push for this reform. Any reform that makes the LDP less bound to the party’s more moribund elements and more ideologically coherent makes for a better LDP and, as a result, better government (and a more coherent party system). At the same time, however, pushing this forward in the wake of the “postal rebel” battle does not seem to make the best political sense. It might be good strategy to smooth over some of the more obvious rifts in the party before moving forward with another initiative bound to, at the very least, ruffle feathers.

Is it possible that Mr. Abe simply lacks the necessary skills to manage an LDP that is as divided as ever but subject to ever-greater public scrutiny? Or, alternatively, has the desperation and intensity of intra-party disputes been amplified as the pork barrel has shrunk with cuts in public spending? Whatever the reason, the LDP hardly looks like a confident, governing party holding a large majority as the special session of the Diet winds down. Although the LDP has announced that it is aiming to pass the bills on education reform and the elevation of the JDA to ministry status on December 15, it seems that those legislative victories will be small consolation for the damage — much of it self-inflicted — that the LDP has suffered during the two months since Abe’s inauguration.

As suggested above, this story also contains shades of Japan’s aging problem, as older legislators apparently feel that they are the target of their younger counterparts. How will the aging problem play out in Japan’s political system? Will one party emerge as the defender of the elderly, or will all parties fight for and claim a portion of that mantle? I don’t have an answer to this question, but it is an important matter to consider as Japan ages.

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