While Abe’s away…

Prime Minister Abe, on tour in South and Southeast Asia, has left behind a political situation in Tokyo in which the only certainty is Mr. Abe’s continuing ability to say no to those who want him to step down.

But in Mr. Abe’s absence, his opponents are, as expected, on the move.

Mr. Ozawa, speaking to assembled admirers at his annual “Ozawa Ichiro political cram school,” has continued to lambaste the Abe administration, suggesting that there will no letting up in the DPJ’s push for an early election, and joking about the government’s “brain death.”

Within the LDP, meanwhile, criticism of the prime minister continues. Kosaka Kenji’s anti-Abe study group has announced that it is in the process of preparing a policy statement to be released in early September that will criticize the “Abe line” on economic policy and reform. It does not look as if the Kosaka group’s membership has grown since the initial announcement, but it will be interesting to see if an anti-mainstream position rooted in concerns about the toll of “neo-liberal” policies on rural Japan can gain traction within the LDP. I would not underestimate the presence of sympathizers within the party — but the question is whether the Kosaka group can serve as an effective rallying point without a standard bearer. A platform is useless without an effective leader to stand upon it.

I expect that the composition of the new Abe cabinet will determine the future of the new “opposition forces.” Should they be locked out of power, as looks increasingly likely, Abe’s critics — whether those who criticize his policy priorities or his leadership (or lack thereof) — could rally under the Kosaka group’s banner and serve as an intra-party force pressuring the prime minister to shift to the political center as a way of disarming the opposition and shoring up the LDP’s support in rural Japan.

In a move that tacitly concedes that bankruptcy of Abe’s ideological, symbolic politics and the need to change course, outgoing LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao has echoed the Yomiuri Shimbun, calling for an LDP-DPJ grand coalition. Keeping in mind that such a coalition is politically impossible for the foreseeable future, Nakagawa’s embrace of it suggests that Abe critics and skeptics are desperately searching for a way to temper the prime minister and undermine the opposition at the same time. They better start looking for another approach, because a grand coalition just won’t happen, as I discussed here.

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