The Fukuda standoff

After weeks of debate within the LDP and between the LDP and Komeito, the government has suggested that the autumn extraordinary session is likely to begin no earlier than mid-September. A final decision will be made on Tuesday, 19 Aug.

As MTC notes, the late start means that the future of the Maritime Self Defense Forces refueling mission in the Indian Ocean is bleak, provided that the DPJ remains uniformly opposed and Komeito fearful of partaking in the use of Article 59 to override the upper house (a procedure that would, given the late start of the session, likely entail yet another extension of a Diet session). MTC also notes that the late start ensures that the government will focus its efforts on a supplementary budget containing economic stimulus measures, instead of structural reform. The government’s priorities were made clear following a meeting between Prime Minister Fukuda, LDP Secretary-General Aso Taro, and LDP Diet strategist Oshima Tadanori.

MTC suggests that the abbreviated Diet session guarantees an early election.

I’m not so sure. I’m certainly not willing to rule out the possibility, but the situation strikes me as more complex than mere election timing. The LDP and Mr. Fukuda are increasingly in a standoff, with Mr. Fukuda as prime minister holding the bomb of an early election that could spell doom for the party’s majority. It is increasingly clear that the LDP would like to coax the weapon out of the hands of the cornered prime minister, especially with the resurrected Aso Taro looking increasingly like the man to lead the LDP to a less-than-disastrous finish in the next general election.

A recent Yomiuri poll found the new LDP secretary-general to be the overwhelming favorite answer to the question of who would make the most appropriate prime minister: twenty-five percent of respondents favored him, compared to thirteen percent for Koizumi Junichiro, ten percent for Ozawa Ichiro, and three percent for Mr. Fukuda, DPJ acting president Kan Naoto, and health, labor, and welfare minister Masuzoe Yoichi.

I have doubts that even the popular Mr. Aso can save the wreck of the LDP, but if enough LDP members convince themselves that he is their only hope — this may already be the case — Mr. Fukuda could face a choice between holding on to power (futilely) by calling an election before he can be removed, or quietly ceding the reins to a successor, presumably Mr. Aso, at the end of the extraordinary session.

It seems to have come down to this: by year’s end there will either be an LDP presidential election or a general election.

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