Aso, campaigning

Aso Taro’s eponymous faction held a party on Friday night, with more than 2000 guests in attendance. Undoubtedly he was in good spirits, as his faction acquired two new members the previous day, Muto Yoji (HR, Gifu-3) and Hasegawa Tamon (HC, Ibaraki). The faction now has twenty members including Mr. Aso, meaning that with two more faction members Mr. Aso will be able to secure the necessary nominations to contest the LDP presidency from entirely within his own faction.

A number of faction chiefs and party officials were in attendance, and many made introductions. Mori Yoshiro, the putative head of the Machimura faction and thus the man with perhaps the greatest say of Mr. Aso’s fate, was also in attendance, although he made no introductions.

The various guests tried to dissuade Mr. Aso from overtly challenging Mr. Fukuda. Ibuki Bunmei, LDP secretary-general, said: “Mr. Aso is a powerful candidate for prime minister and LDP president, but with the DPJ as it is now, whoever becomes prime minister will not be able to resolve the situation easily.”

In case anyone still doubts his intentions, Aso Taro is campaigning to replace Fukuda Yasuo as head of the LDP and prime minister of Japan. Nominally still loyal to the prime minister, he clearly expects that his chance is coming sooner rather than later.

It is still an open question as to whether he has successfully wooed Mr. Mori and with him the Machimura faction.

He can probably rely on more solid support from the LDP’s prefectural chapters. Mr. Aso was in Kochi prefecture this weekend making his pitch for regional decentralization. I wonder whether LDP-controlled prefectural and local governments would prefer to remain dependent upon Tokyo instead of being responsible for their own finances and policies as envisioned by Mr. Aso’s radical plan. The fight over road construction has revealed that for the most part the LDP isn’t interested in innovative solutions to the rural question. Why else would LDP leaders continue to assert the importance of road construction to the development of lightly populated prefectures despite evidence to the contrary?

In short, while Mr. Aso may be in a better position to contend for the LDP leadership in both Tokyo and the prefectures than last September, there are still questions concerning his support in the parliamentary party — and his ability to secure such overwhelming support in the prefectural chapters to make it difficult for the parliamentary party to reject his candidacy once more.

And despite his preparations, I don’t envision Mr. Aso doing anything to force Mr. Fukuda out — he will nominally support the prime minister up until the moment that the party’s powers-that-be abandon him.

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