But, at the same time, one has to wonder who exactly is adult in the Japanese political system. Prime Minister Abe? The way he has reacted to the defeat — to the outright rejection of him and his leadership by the voters — is little better than that of a petulant child. This article in Asahi shows him consulting with Messrs. Mori, Nakagawa (Hidenao), and Aoki in the midst of the defeat and insisting that he will not be resigning no matter what. Mr. Abe might think it makes him look courageous, holding his ground in the face of growing opposition, but in fact it makes him look like a stubborn toddler refusing to eat his vegetables or go to sleep at bedtime.
So the question is how and when the grown-ups will finally punish Mr. Abe. Will he be felled by a kind of frontal assault in the Diet in the manner of Kato Koichi’s aborted attack on Prime Minister Mori in 2000, building up public support and then moving against the prime minister? This time around, with party discipline in shambles, such a gambit might work, because it’s hard to see the threat of expulsion from the party carrying the same weight as it did then. That scenario depends, of course, on someone having the courage to do it. Alternatively, will Mr. Mori, the LDP capo di tutti capi, finally make Mr. Abe an offer he can’t refuse and put a steadier, more senior hand at the wheel who will listen to the wisdom of party elders? (Mr. Abe, for his part, recently met with former Prime Ministers Mori, Nakasone, and Kaifu for advice, and he was told to make his next cabinet an all-faction unity cabinet; it remains to be seen whether he’ll take that advice.) Another scenario would be a kind of pincer movement, with a reformist upstart challenging Mr. Abe in the Diet while the elders sneak in from behind and finish the job.
Whatever the case may be, I increasingly doubt that the LDP’s “civil war” will last all that long. I expect over the next few weeks that the newspapers will be full of rumors and innuendo concerning potential moves to unseat Mr. Abe before swift action against him. After all, the virtue of a parliamentary system is that when a leader descends into the Bush range of unpopularity, while possessing the same tenuous hold on reality, there are steps that can be taken to show said leader the door.