The restive right

In recent days I’ve argued that Japan watchers may soon find that Mr. Fukuda, who is ascending to the premiership with a hail of acclaim as a unity candidate, will turn out to be no such figure; he will likely face considerable opposition from within his own party.

As MTC notes in a brief but astute post, the meaningful division within the LDP — aside from urban-rural differences — is not along factional lines but along ideological lines (a division that to some extent follows generational lines). Except that there is little contest as to who holds the upper hand in the party: on social and foreign policy questions, the taka-ha (hawks) is in control.

The pragmatic Mr. Fukuda’s surprising climb up the greasy pole notwithstanding, the LDP is increasingly an ideologically coherent party. As Richard Samuels and J. Patrick Boyd wrote in the monograph discussed in this post, the relegation of conservative ideologues to the LDP’s anti-mainstream positions for the duration of the cold war (with few exceptions) has collapsed since the cold war’s end, meaning that ideologically speaking, Mr. Fukuda and his hato-ha beliefs are actually anti-mainstream. He is only ascending to power today by virtue of a political crisis that has left the LDP paralyzed and scared, prompting the LDP’s more moderate elders to turn to one of their own. As MTC notes, the hawkish youngsters did not feel the same, and gave Mr. Aso a surprisingly high tally in Sunday’s presidential vote.

Komori Yoshihisa today provides another reminder that the ideologues and their allies in the media will not be forgiving of “lapses” by Mr. Fukuda. Mr. Komori digs up a record of a meeting between Mr. Fukuda and the abductee families after Mr. Koizumi’s September 2002 visit to Pyongyang, when Mr. Fukuda was chief cabinet secretary, in which Mr. Fukuda apparently acted callous to the families. Just because Mr. Abe, an exemplary member of the young hawks, crashed and burned doesn’t mean that the ideologues are marginalized — which means that the abductions issue, their pet issue, will not be abandoned without a fight.

How much slack will the restive ideologues give the pragmatic, flexible prime minister?

2 thoughts on “The restive right

  1. And if they cut him no slack? How far do you think the voting public (who recently has shown an uncommon willingness to break with customary party ties) will allow the hawks to go before they run off an ideological cliff?Do you see any chance of LDP marginalizing itself in the name of ideological purity, the way parties on both the left and right have done in several other countries?


  2. Anonymous

    Asahi Shimbun (English ed.) has an interesting article about this very conflict you discuss here. Their view is that Fukuda is caught between Koizumi\’s ideology of economic reform (neoliberalism) and Abe\’s ideology of national pride (neoconservatism) and they suggest that to navigate between these shoals, Fukuda will have to stick to his non-ideological realism rigorously. Presumably, the members of his faction (Mori faction?) are in tune with this philosophy and so this is the reason why he has brought so many faction members into leadership positions. There is also an interesting article on his diplomatic experience and approach which emphasizes reconciliation with Japan\’s restive neighbors. With extensive experience as his father\’s secretary during the formulation of the Fukuda doctrine, I think this speaks well for probable success along this path given enough time. A Time article on Fukuda suggests though he is likely to be no more than a caretaker transitional PM, there is some hope that he can last longer than many expect. As you can see from some decisions already such as the determination to work towards renewal of the anti-terrorism law, Fukuda is not in favor of antagonizing the US alliance as he seeks reconciliation with China and both Koreas. Diplomatic and realistic I would contend is a good policy for Japan at this fragile time in history.


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