The LDP’s personal-ideological struggles

Several media outlets, including Sankei and Jiji, have reported on comments by Kato Koichi, former LDP secretary-general and Kochikai faction leader, in which he declared, “The YKK is over.”

The YKK, which stands for Yamasaki (Taku), Kato (Koichi), Koizumi (Junichiro), was a political alliance formed in the early 1990s in opposition to the Tanakist politics of Takeshita Noboru and the Keiseikai. Even now, it should be recalled as but a footnote in the tumultuous 1990s. Of the three, Mr. Koizumi of course went on to remake the political landscape; Mr. Tamasaki was but his lieutenant, and Mr. Kato is one of the great might-have-beens of Japanese politics (i.e., how would things have been different today had his 2000 rebellion against Mr. Mori succeeded, forcing Mr. Koizumi to wait for another chance at the premiership?).

Why, I wonder, is Mr. Kato’s pronouncement newsworthy? No more newsworthy is his comment that the divided Diet has rendered YKK-style politics irrelevant because the ability to work across parties is at a premium. What the passing of the YKK does suggest is that the nature of competition within the LDP has changed: whereas once the dominance of Tanaka Kakuei and his successors within the LDP prompted the formation of a balancing coalition like the YKK, which united proteges of former prime ministers Ohira Masayoshi (Kato), Nakasone Yasuhiro (Yamasaki), and Fukuda Takeo (Koizumi), competition in the contemporary LDP falls along different, more intractable lines. Has there been an overt movement against the dominance of the Machimura faction? On the contrary, intra-LDP struggles of late have more or less ignored factional lines and now follow intractable, ideological fault lines, with ideological positions symbolized by prominent advocates (the Abe and Fukuda “colors,” the Koizumi “line,” etc.)

Accordingly, there is a subterranean factional battle that bears only the slightest resemblance to the formal struggle for power among the LDP’s factions. The Abe-Nakagawa-Aso conservatives, the Koizumian reformists, the “dovish” moderates, the rural reactionaries: simplifying somewhat (and recognizing that there is some overlap),these are the actors jostling for control of the party, a struggle that will likely climax in the aftermath of the next general election.

The conservatives may have the upper hand on the basis of numbers — and because in Mr. Aso they have a visible standard bearer with no small amount of national popularity. By that account, the Koizumians are in trouble because, according to Iijima Isao, Boswell to Mr. Koizumi’s Johnson, “the true successor to the Koizumi reform line” is Yosano Kaoru, former chief cabinet secretary and pipeline to Ozawa Ichiro. (He also singled out Nakagawa Hidenao, former LDP secretary general, and Takenaka Heizo, Mr. Koizumi’s lieutenant, for “selling their souls” to the bureaucracy.) Apparently Mr. Tanigaki has failed to measure up to Mr. Iijima’s standards. Whatever Mr. Yosano’s virtues as a politician, it is difficult to see him as the standard bearer for the embattled Koizumians. The excitement that greeted reports of Mr. Koizumi’s recent spate of activity illustrates the futility of Mr. Iijima’s quest to name a successor: the Koizumians, it seems, will rise and fall alongside Mr. Koizumi himself.

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