As now widely acknowleged, Fukuda Yasuo enjoys a commanding position thanks to support of every LDP faction but Aso Taro’s.
Mr. Aso, therefore, will be campaigning as a rebel. Thanks in part to the rapid commitment of the factions to Mr. Fukuda, Mr. Aso has now started calling attention to the perils of faction rule, borrowing from the Koizumi playbook to campaign as the candidate for a new LDP. It is unclear whether he can succeed by taking this message directly to the party grassroots.
As Asahi found when it asked LDP prefectural chapter officials about the race, it’s not exactly clear what they want from the next leader: “There are differing views: On the one hand, there is the view that approves of the factions’ simultaneous embrace of Mr. Fukuda as ‘resulting in party unity,’ but there is on the other hand the objection that ‘it’s strange before a policy debate.'” For example, Hokkaido’s officials mentioned leadership, while Tohoku officials mentioned the kakusa mondai. Outside of Gunma, Mr. Fukuda’s home prefecture, Asahi did not find great enthusiasm for Mr. Fukuda’s candidacy — and the process by which the factions rushed to his side seems to have raised eyebrows.
What will it take to placate the prefectural chapters? Will vague promises from Tokyo to listen to their concerns be enough to make them fall into line behind the will of the party elders?
Meanwhile, the discussion about what Fukuda administration’s agenda will look like continues, and the consensus increasingly seems to be that it will be like Mr. Abe’s, but stripped of ideological fantasies and vacuous slogans. Jun Okumura fleshes this out in considerable detail in this post.
This approach — reformist at home, moderate abroad — could be enough to ensure that the LDP remains competitive in urban Japan, putting pressure on the DPJ in the coming months to work with the government on the budget and related legislation, or else risk getting its hoped-for early election in circumstances more favorable to the government. But rural Japan remains the wild card. Was July’s desertion a fluke, or will Mr. Ozawa’s “back to the future” strategy actually serve to pry rural voters away from the LDP in general elections as well? If the latter, it’s wholly unclear to me what Mr. Fukuda will do to regain the trust of rural Japan.
A potentially ominous sign for the government is MAFF’s recent decision to begin working with the DPJ on agricultural policy. It is well known that in the past the bureaucracy has declined to work with the DPJ in drafting its own legislation. For MAFF to begin talking of “conciliation” with the ascendant opposition could well signal just how parlous the LDP’s situation in rural Japan is. At the very least, it shows that Mr. Ozawa has actually seized the initiative on agricultural policy with the DPJ’s plans for introducing an “income compensation” system, earning the support of sympathizers within MAFF, who are more than happy to support a plan criticized by the LDP as baramaki seisaku (i.e., throwing money around).
Mr. Fukuda, should he hold on to win, has his work cut out for him.