He treated viewers to his assessments of potential successors for Mr. Fukuda, although he made clear that he still stands behind the prime minister (although who knows how much longer that guarantee will last). He dismissed Koike Yuriko’s prime ministerial prospects as a “joke,” noting that “only the mass media is talking about this.” He gave general praise to both Aso Taro and Yosano Kaoru, who are shaping up as the leading contenders to replace Mr. Fukuda. He called particular attention to Mr. Aso’s popularity. He also hinted that he’s willing to consider a general election within the year. It is obvious that despite his protestations, Mr. Mori is thinking about the post-Fukuda era.
Interestingly, in a Jiji poll asking which politician would make an appropriate prime minister, Mr. Aso ranked second with 16% to Koizumi Junichiro’s 21.2%, ahead of both Ozawa Ichiro (7.2%) and…Prime Minister Fukuda (7.1%). The gap between Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Aso was narrower among self-described LDP supporters, 31.3% to 28.3%, with Mr. Fukuda drawing only 12.5% from LDP supporters. Mr. Yosano and Ms. Koike barely registered on the poll, receiving .7% and 1.5% respectively.
In light of these figures, is Mr. Mori leaning to Mr. Aso? Is he willing to embrace the argument that the LDP can be saved only by charisma? He’s giving few hints, but I wonder whether Mr. Aso’s charm campaign is having some effect on the LDP boss — which leads me to wonder what promises Mr. Aso has made to him in their discussions over the past several months.
Meanwhile, it’s entirely possible that Ms. Koike will have the last laugh if Mr. Koizumi’s new study group is in fact a proto-party.