The battle for rural Japan

The campaign for the LDP presidency officially opened on Saturday, and its contours are already apparent.

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.

One thought on “The battle for rural Japan

  1. The Asahi piece has probably spun the MAFF story far beyond the realities that the facts (which I do not dispute) justify.The DPJ holds sway over the Upper House. It is only prudent that the ministries upgrade their customer relations department as appropriate. I believe that the other ministries are doing likewise, if only because otherwise no bill not initiated by MAFF would pass enacted other than by way of supermajority revotes, and the Fukuda and/or Aso administration would hate that. If fact, because of this, I believe it highly likely that the LDP-New Komeito coalition has given its blessing, or at least implicit approval, to do so.In the 90s when the LDP briefly went into the opposition, it felt cold-shouldered by the bureaucracy. It did not leave their newfound resentment behind when it returned to power, and the wound has never completely healed. This is one more reason for the bureaucracy to check with the LDP before it makes adjustments to its relationship with the opposition.As for substance, every ministry has its range of opinions, ranging from ultra-orthodoxy to outright heresy, and it is not difficult to find officials who will express their dissent as they kibitz with reporters. Leaks and non-attributable confessions are not confined to the corridors of Washington.All this is as much conjecture as the Asahi article, since I am years removed from the times when I could have confirmed it first-hand. I think, therefore you decide. But, I remind you, unlike the Asahi reporter, I am not under the professional compunction to sex it up.

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