Fukuda the conciliator

The campaign is well under way, and Fukuda Yasuo is starting to sound like, well, the DPJ just a few short months ago in its campaign for the Upper House.

He has emphasized the need for a “self-reliant and harmonious” society and talked of fixing broken institutions and ease the insecurity of dispossessed portions of the populations; Aso Taro, meanwhile, has been going on about “continuing economic growth,” Mr. Abe’s line in the Upper House election.

Mr. Aso, however, also seems to be burning his bridges by basing his campaign on the “factional collusion” that worked to give Mr. Fukuda a commanding lead. Mr. Fukuda met with parliamentary supporters yesterday, and according to Mainichi, LDP Diet members are unhappy with Mr. Aso’s new approach. In response to his remark about “a fatally flawed majority,” members described it as “disagreeable” and “excessive.”

In addition to wondering about what will happen if Mr. Aso can pull off a landslide victory in the prefectural chapters, I also wonder what position Mr. Aso will be in at the end of a losing campaign, with or without a landslide in the countryside. Will he return to the fold, chastened by the defeat of his insurgency? Will he continue to be a thorn in the LDP’s side, payback for his treatment at the hands of party elders? Will he stay in the party?

An Aso victory looks ever more remote, and a Fukuda administration a (temporary) restorative for both LDP and the political system. Mr. Fukuda has said that he would limit changes to cabinet personnel. He also said that in the event of an intractable situation he would be willing to consult with the opposition about dissolving the House of Representatives and calling an election. It seems less and less likely that the government will make it another two years without calling a general election.

Outside the LDP, Mr. Fukuda appears to enjoy considerable support among the public. An Asahi poll shows him enjoying a commanding (if irrelevant in terms of the party election) support rating of 53% to Aso’s 21%. Those surveyed favor a “conciliator” for the next prime minister, and not surprisingly an overwhelming majority sees Mr. Fukuda as a conciliator.

The Japan that Mr. Fukuda looks set to inherit is an insecure Japan, and not simply or primarily because of Mr. Abe’s tenure. Concerns about pensions and economic disparities remain paramount, but there is still a desire to continue Mr. Koizumi’s reforms (favored by 54% to 36%). And there’s the challenge: continuing reforms and finishing the job of destroying the ancien gime, but ensuring that the transition isn’t too painful and that too many Japanese aren’t left behind by the changes. (For a discussion on this subject that is a bit more loopy, check out this Gordan Chang post and the accompanying responses.)

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