"Post Abe" comes early

Ampontan — aka the yarase blogger — appears to have abandoned Abe Shinzo for…Foreign Minister Aso Taro.

At least that’s what I conclude from this love letter he wrote to Aso yesterday.

Is there any serious likelihood of Aso ascending to the premiership in the wake of a disastrous LDP performance next month? A commentator (“AC”) on Ampontan’s post beat me to the punch: “Aso has a well-deserved reputation as a loose cannon. Another problem with him is that he has long been openly campaigning for the position, something the LDP tends not to reward. If the LDP gets trounced in July and Abe is sent packing, I fully expect Mori and the other heavyweights to throw their support behind a nonthreatening caretaker who won’t further split the party. Aso is not that person. Machimura might be, and that’s my pick.”

That sounds right. With the LDP hastening to return to its old ways, it seems extremely unlikely that in the next five to six weeks someone like Aso is going to be able to round up the necessary support across factions to position himself to lunge at the leadership should Abe falter (his own faction, the Ikoukai, likely being too small a base at present). AC may be on the right track with Machimura, head of the largest faction, cabinet-experienced, and a suitably mild placeholder to keep things steady while the dust settles in the wake of an Abe collapse.

Meanwhile, I have to imagine, ironically, that some older hands in the LDP wistfully recall Koizumi, who served as the perfect foil, allowing them to play down inter-factional disputes to focus on the party head who promised to destroy them. (In the same way that some American hawks wistfully recall the simple, clear days of the cold war.) Now, in the vacuum created by Abe’s weak position within the party and in the political system at large, factional politics has heated up once again and life is a lot more insecure than when there was one, large prominent enemy. After balancing against and undermining Koizumi, the factions have returned to balancing against each other. Barring the emergence of a party leader who can draw upon the same fount of popular support as Koizumi — and I suspect that will be hard for anyone to achieve, given that voters may be somewhat more cynical post-Koizumi — Abe’s successor will be a compromise candidate.

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