The imperial guard coalesces

It’s been less than a week since Prime Minister Fukuda made his eleventh hour appeal to the DPJ to cooperate in the gasoline tax/road construction dispute, discarding much of the road tribe’s program in the process and leading Kono Taro to remark (noted here) that the young reformers had gone “from opposition forces to imperial guards.”

Now Mr. Kono, along with Tanahashi Yasufumi and Mizuno Kenichi from the LDP and Komeito’s Ueda Isamu, has created a study group with the horribly clumsy name “Club to Support the Fukuda Plan and Move the Road Construction Fund into the General Fund.” Thirty-seven Diet members reportedly participated in the preparatory meeting. At a press conference Wednesday Mr. Kono warned, “If it [the road maintenance fund special law revised bill] passes the House of Representatives again, there will be rebellion!”

According to Yamamoto Ichita, not all participants are as brazen as Mr. Kono. He notes that he was surprised to hear that some protested including mention of the end of the special fund into the club’s name, so as to not exacerbate internal conflict within the LDP.

With that in mind, it’s hard to take Mr. Kono entirely seriously when he speaks of rebellion. That said, it does look like the LDP’s young reformers may finally be stepping out from the shadow of Koizumi Junichiro and speaking up for themselves. The fight pits them against the party’s elders, some of whom think that the government must pass the tax and road construction bills again as soon as possible. The reformers may be flying Mr. Fukuda’s standard, but they will also be pressuring him not to revert from the proposal made last week. The mood within the LDP’s leadership suggests that Mr. Fukuda will be under pressure to forgo efforts to seek agreement with the DPJ, meaning that the LDP may very well batten down the hatches, ride out the April confusion, and push ahead to pass first the tax, and then, a couple weeks later, the road construction plan again, whatever the consequences for the party’s incumbents. Could it? Will it?

I remain convinced that Mr. Fukuda is on the brink of a fight for the survival of his government.

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