I’m inclined to agree, simply because it seems that the LDP has finally exhausted the patience of the Japanese people — and the members of the LDP seem more interested in dividing into warring ideological camps than in making good policy in advance of a general election. The party elders seem equally aware of the peril facing the LDP. Not surprisingly, over the weekend both Foreign Minister Komura and former prime minister Mori insisted that there is no hurry to hold a general election, with Mr. Komura suggesting that the government should wait until the end of the term (i.e., September 2009) before dissolving the House of Representatives and holding a election.
Will the ideologues, I wonder, permit the government to wait that long before going to the people? Will 2008 be the year of the Nakagawa no ran?
Meanwhile, the gasoline tax issue is shaping up to be a massive boon for the opposition, not least because it will make it harder for Mr. Fukuda and the LDP to campaign on behalf of consumers and urban Japan more generally. That’s what I conclude from a meeting at the Kantei with the National Governors Association, in which the governors, led by NGA Chairman Aso Wataru of Fukuoka (no relation to Taro, who is also from Fukuoka), informed the government that they support the extension of the “temporary” gasoline tax. (It’s unclear from this Sankei article about the meeting whether the governors are unanimous in support of the tax extension.) The issue is increasingly shaping up to be a battle of consumers and gas-dependent producers versus regions hungry for infrastructure projects funded by the tax. It seems obvious to me which side is the better bet both in the short term, in a general election, and over the long term as the LDP and the DPJ vie for dominance.
The DPJ is set to get as much mileage out of the gasoline tax issue as possible (pun intended), and unlike in the debate over the refueling mission, the LDP may not be able to win the match by using the HR supermajority. A recent Mainichi poll found that even as 46% of respondents said they approved of the government’s use of the supermajority on the refueling issue (to 41% who did not approve), 51% said they don’t think it should be used for future issues (compared to only 38% who approve of its being used again). Mr. Mori thinks that there is no danger to the government from using the supermajority to resolve the debate over the gasoline tax, that the threat of an HC censure motion is nothing to fear. As I noted in the run-up to the re-passage of the anti-terror law earlier this month, on paper the DPJ’s threat to censure the government isn’t much of a threat. The government could theoretically ignore it. But a censure motion backed by massive public outcry against the government would be harder to ignore.
It is difficult to see how Mr. Fukuda, for all his good intentions, will be able to reassert his control of the LDP and regain the momentum in Diet deliberations.