The post-Fukuda era looms

Asahi conducted a poll of LDP and DPJ prefectural chapters asking about support for the current party leaders.

In the DPJ, Ozawa Ichiro’s relationship with the prefectural chapters is secure: forty-four of forty-seven want him to remain as party head to lead the DPJ into the next general election.

The news for Fukuda Yasuo, however, is bleak. Twelve chapters want Mr. Fukuda to lead the LDP into the next general election; twenty-two want a new leader (no indication what the other thirteen said). Interestingly, there is little correlation between how a prefecture voted in the September 2007 leadership election and its support for Mr. Fukuda today. The reasons given for discontent with Mr. Fukuda are typical: low public support numbers, poor leadership skills, an inability to make progress on the many pressing policy issues facing the Fukuda government. Asked how they think is an appropriate replacement for Mr. Fukuda, only seven chapters answered with a name (as opposed to qualities desired in a leader), and all seven provided the same name: Aso Taro.

The news from the prefectures contributes to a growing sense in Tokyo that Mr. Fukuda is running out of time, a sense that has grown in the weeks since the LDP’s defeat in the Yamaguchi-2 by-election as the party has studied its defeat. There is growing talk in the media of the post-Fukuda era, as the media probes the two leading post-Fukuda candidates, Mr. Aso and Yosano Kaoru, the leading anyone-but-Aso candidate for the LDP presidency. (A Google News search finds ninety-eight uses of the term “post-Fukuda” over the past week.) As expected, Mr. Yosano’s failure to say yes or no to questions about his ambitions has only fed media speculation about his designs on Mr. Fukuda’s job, and now Mr. Aso and Mr. Yosano are spoken of in the same breath as having barely concealed intentions to hasten the arrival of the post-Fukuda era. Indeed, both men have articles in the June issue of Bungei Shunju discussing their plans for saving Japan.

Mr. Aso is at the point where he can no longer deny his intentions. At a press conference Friday, Mr. Yosano was asked whether he intends to aim for the premiership. His response skirted the question: “I am a person who takes pride in his work, and if I have a task, I perform it with all my might. I have no awareness of my individual ambition — I want to do good work.” Not quite “I’m in. And I’m in to win.” But it is consistent with his overall media approach in recent months: Mr. Yosano has emphasized his desire to do what needs to be done to save Japan (raising the consumption tax rate, for example), regardless of what the polls say.

It is still unclear who has the edge in the post-Fukuda horse race. By dint of his having the support of the LDP’s conservative ideologues concentrated in the True Conservative Policy Research Group, his following among prefectural chapters and the public at large, and his tireless efforts to proclaim his understanding of the insecurities of the Japanese people, Mr. Aso probably remains the front runner.

He may also be poised to claim the support of the newly reunited Kochikai, which officially reemerged on Tuesday and with sixty-one members is the third largest faction in the LDP. At its launch the new old faction is already troubled; the phrase that has been used in the press is “setting to sea in the same bed with different dreams.” The reason for tension is that there are hints that some faction members are open to supporting Mr. Aso’s bid for the party presidency, despite Tanigaki Sadakazu, perennial candidate for the leadership (and likely candidate in the next leadership election), being the faction’s number two. Mr. Tanigaki assumed that the new faction would be a major platform for his next bid for the leadership and has reportedly threatened to leave the faction if it fails to support him.

That said, the all-important Machimura faction (i.e., Mori Yoshiro) has yet to signal which way it is leaning, despite Mr. Aso’s active courting of Mr. Mori and other Machimura faction chiefs. The post-Fukuda non-campaign campaign is in full swing, the candidates are emerging, and the LDP barons are starting to choose sides — with Mr. Fukuda helpless in the midst of the open campaigning for his job.

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