He was promptly reprimanded by Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura, who clarified that it is the prime minister’s responsibility — the prime minister’s alone — to dissolve the House of Representatives and call an election, and that it is inappropriate for a member of the cabinet to address this (no matter how many books on politics, including one on the premiership, to his name).
Prime Minister Fukuda, too, jokingly chided himself for hinting at the possibility of a snap election at an informal gathering of cabinet members.
But behind the jokes, however, is the very real concern that should the LDP call an election now, it could face a defeat that would make the July defeat look like an LDP triumph. Miyagawa Takayoshi, head of the Center for Political Public Relations, had an article in the October 18th issue of Shukan Bunshun (not online) in which he describes his predictions for a general election.
In short, disaster for the LDP:
LDP 197 (down 110 from 307, 134 single-seat constituencies)
Komeito 23 (down 8 from 31)
DPJ 224 (up 111 from 113, 145 single-seat constituencies)
Combined with slight gains or no change among the other opposition parties, the opposition as a whole would have 260 of the Lower House’s 480 seats. The article goes into some detail about the components of this dramatic shift, with change concentrated in Hokkaido (where the DPJ already has a strong foothold and will be running against LDP heavyweights like Mr. Machimura and former PARC chairman Nakagawa Shoichi) and Tokyo, where the DPJ saw its position nearly wiped out in 2005 (another article in this issue suggests that Mr. Ozawa might consider jumping constituencies from Iwate to Tokyo, confident that the vacated seat will be picked up by the DPJ candidate).
A couple things leap out at me. First, even if this outcome comes to pass, the DPJ will still need a total of seventeen more seats to secure a governing majority, which will mean turning to some combination of Kokumin Shinto, SDP, the Japan Party, Suzuki Muneo’s Great Earth Party, and an assortment of independents (not to mention the Communists, who may be an unlikely coalition partner but who may play a decisive role in the next election by changing their electoral strategy and limiting the number of candidates they run in the next general election). The opposition parties may be cooperating now, but would a governing coalition fall into place easily under Mr. Ozawa, given memories of the last multi-party coalition engineered by Mr. Ozawa? Obviously this case would be different, given the DPJ’s overwhelming dominance of a coalition, but the DPJ would still depend on its coalition partners in order to govern, despite the discrepancy in numbers.
Second, and more significantly, given the prospects of a defeat of this magnitude, why would Mr. Fukuda decide to call an early election that would mean the end of LDP rule? If the party had even a remote possibility of restoring its prospects over the next twenty-three months, why would it act within the next three, as suggested by Mr. Masuzoe? Sure, it could get worse for the LDP, and the DPJ could take an outright majority, but it seems like that’s a risk worth taking.
And I think the LDP knows this, which is why I suspect that any references to an early election from Mr. Fukuda or his inner circle are intended more to rattle the DPJ than to signal serious intentions of calling an early election. Why? Because as suggested by Mr. Koizumi’s new “mainstream / anti-mainstream” thesis, the closer an election seems, the more the DPJ will go on the attack and try to widen the differences between it and the LDP. Like bullfighting in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, Mr. Fukuda can wave the cape of an early election, prompting Mr. Ozawa to lower his head and charge, only to withdraw the cape and have the DPJ slam head on into the cold, hard anvil of another two years (at least) of divided government.
All of this depends, of course, on Mr. Fukuda’s retaining his teflon coat — or to stick with the metaphor, remaining the calm, unflappable matador untouched by the turmoil around him. As Jun Okumura suggests, Mr. Fukuda’s cabinet might even be on the brink of losing its allure and seeing its popularity plummet should its new anti-terror law stall in the Diet thanks to Moriya Takemasa’s allegations. But I still have strong doubts that Mr. Fukuda will cave into a snap election quickly.
As for Mr. Miyagawa’s predictions, I haven’t checked them thoroughly, but I intend to do my own breakdown and predictions for the 300 single-seat constituencies soon, critiquing Mr. Miyagawa’s in the process.