There’s not much I can add to Jun Okumura’s assessment of what this means. Mr. Fukuda ended up winning comfortably enough so as not to further exacerbate intraparty tension. While not winning by a landslide in the prefectural votes, Mr. Fukuda had a strong enough showing so as to deny Mr. Aso the opportunity to continue to contest the presidency as a pretender to throne with legitimacy derived from support in the grassroots.
It remains to be seen whether Mr. Fukuda will be able to salvage the current Diet session, and whether he will even last long enough to finish Mr. Abe’s presidential term, which lasts until September 2009. To hasten the return to normalcy, he is expected to retain most of Mr. Abe’s second cabinet. (Yomiuri speculated today that even while removing Mr. Aso as LDP secretary-general, he’ll retain Hatoyama Kunio, Mr. Aso’s ally, as justice minister.) But he will face a DPJ that is aiming to make the Fukuda cabinet but a short interlude between the Abe train wreck and a DPJ triumph in a general election.
The DPJ has used the unexpected break caused by Mr. Abe’s resignation to “go to the people” and continue to sell its agriculture policies to restive rural Japan, reassuring farmers that the money exists to provide the promised subsidies. The party has, in fact, announced that it will submit its income compensation bill to the Diet in mid-October. The debate over that bill, if and when it happens, may be more consequential for the balance between the parties and their prospects leading to a general election than the ongoing battle over the anti-terror special measures law.