In a handful of days, Prime Minister Fukuda has gone from cool and collected, to angry, to shaken and desperate.
On Friday, Mr. Fukuda called an emergency press conference to make one final plea to the DPJ to compromise on the gasoline tax, agreeing to reduce the sunset clause on the use of gasoline tax for road construction to one year.
Not surprisingly, DPJ Secretary-General Hatoyama Yukio signaled that the DPJ will not accept Mr. Fukuda’s latest plea. LDP Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei and Komeito Secretary-General Kitagawa Kazuo are reportedly working on an emergency one-month extension to avert “chaos,” i.e. to not give the Japanese people a one-month tax cut that they might not want to see reversed in a month.
More interesting, however, is the impact of Mr. Fukuda’s plea within the LDP. The road tribe is of course, apoplectic over his compromise; the Koizumians are pleased that the prime minister is coming around to one of the maestro’s cherished positions. Considering that even some ostensible “reformists” have been spinning the road construction plans as beneficial for rural areas (as opposed to construction companies and the politicians they back), this last-ditch effort may well throw the party into complete disarray, more than it already is. Mr. Fukuda, already struggling to impose discipline and order on the LDP, may find himself completely friendless after this gambit. Will someone dare to act in the coming weeks to force him out? Will Mr. Mori withdraw his support and suggest that Mr. Fukuda ask for indefinite sick leave?
The debate in the coming weeks over whether to pass the tax bill at the end of next month over the objections of the HC, the opposition, and much of the Japanese public could well be the trigger for a realignment, with Mr. Fukuda’s premiership consumed in the process.