Aso’s the one for Mori

After months of appearing immune to Aso Taro’s relentless courting of his support, Mori Yoshiro said on a TV Asahi program Sunday that he supports Mr. Aso as Prime Minister Fukuda’s successor: “Aso’s popularity must be used greatly for our party. Many within the party have the ‘Aso is next’ mood. I too think that.”

He does not, however, appear to support replacing Mr. Fukuda with Mr. Aso before the next election.

Rather, it seems that Mr. Mori believes that the best use of Mr. Aso is to have him serve as the face of the party in his capacity as LDP secretary-general during a general election campaign and then ride in to save the party in the aftermath of what could be a disaster for the LDP.

The timing of the leadership election will make all the difference in whether we see an LDP president (and Prime Minister) Aso.

Naturally if LDP malcontents manage to maneuver Mr. Fukuda into resigning before a general election, Mr. Aso will likely have no problem winning the prize. Mr. Mori’s endorsement may settle the question of who the Machimura faction will back. The faction, which has been home to the past four prime ministers, has been unable to decide who from its ranks should receive the party’s backing. Former LDP secretary-general Nakagawa Hidenao backs faction member Koike Yuriko; former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo backs Mr. Aso; Machimura Nobutaka, the chief cabinet secretary, has been able to garner little enthusiasm for a bid for the leadership. With Mr. Mori’s backing, however, Mr. Aso could be the faction’s choice, giving him the votes of the LDP’s largest faction. The Machimura faction may yet break, particularly if someone like Ms. Koike were to run an insurgent campaign for the leadership, but other things being equal, the support of Mr. Mori is a major coup for Mr. Aso.

But after a general election, especially one in which the LDP suffers a catastrophic loss? Will the LDP — or what’s left of it — be eager to hand over the reins to one who led the party into the campaign? In short, it’s difficult to predict what an LDP leadership race following the next general election because it’s difficult to predict what the LDP will look like following the next general election.

So Mr. Aso, don’t break out the champagne yet.

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