The group, according to Mr. Yamamoto, has thirty-five members. Mr. Yamamoto also provides the group’s prospectus, which is instructive in considering where the prime minister and the LDP stand at the end of the extraordinary Diet session:
The Liberal Democratic Party is on the verge of its greatest crisis since the formation of the party. Not only has an image been established of a “party clinging to established rights and interests,” but opposition to the new eldercare system, anger at the vanishing pensions problem, and the recurrence of wasted tax revenue scandals have caused the public’s “loss of confidence in the LDP” to raise to levels never seen before. In particular, in last year’s House of Councillors election the governing parties lost their majority because “let’s give the DPJ a chance” syndrome [I love this phrase] was not just in the cities, but spread to rural areas. Unless we find “ways to bring the party back from the dead,” there is a strong possibility that in the next general election we will fall into opposition.
The prospectus then goes on to offer proposals for making “dramatic LDP presidential elections,” starting with a proposal to lift the requirement that candidates must have twenty endorsements (which, they argue correctly, makes for faction-centered elections). The prospectus explicitly points to the example of South Korea’s 2002 presidential election and the “Obama boom” in the 2008 Democratic primaries as ways in which parties revived their public fortunes through dramatic campaigns. The rest of the prospectus contemplates way to run a primary campaign process that will maximize public interest and revive the LDP.
Call it the Obama plan. The whole group seems organized for the purpose of finding the LDP’s Barack Obama (or the LDP’s Kimura Takuya in the TV drama “Change” — the prospectus cites both examples), a young, charismatic star who will somehow transform the party. (Speaking of Kimu Taku, in the July issue of Voice, Tahara Soichiro and Takenaka Heizo discuss a dream cabinet for executing reform. Their prime minister? Kimu Taku. Funny, but sad, so very sad.)
If Japan has a Barack Obama, chances are he’s not already in the LDP, serving time on PARC and Diet committees. Chances are he’s stayed away from politics altogether. And even if the LDP has a young, charismatic reformist waiting to take the reigns, it is unlikely that he (or she) could fix the party. The faction chiefs and zoku giin would swallow the new leader alive, either through constant warnings about the danger of taking one risk or another, or through outright opposition with the help of the bureaucracy. A pretty face and a silver tongue will not save Japan, and will not save the LDP.
Nevertheless, however unlikely the idea that reform of the system for electing LDP presidents will rescue the party, this could be the beginning of a move to push out Prime Minister Fukuda. If enough LDP members go home for the summer and hear from their constituents about the need to replace Mr. Fukuda before the next election, they might be drawn to Mr. Yamamoto’s scheme — or if not his specific scheme, then the underlying idea that the party can rejuvenate itself through a leadership election.