The onslaught begins

Last week, when Amari Akira announced his support for Aso Taro’s taking over for Fukuda Yasuo when the latter’s public approval dips below twenty percent, I wondered, “Will Mr. Amari’s remarks be followed by a series of leaks to the press from anonymous LDP sources about disarray in the government and Mr. Fukuda’s inadequacies as leaders, in the hope that a whisper campaign can drive the approval rating down to Mr. Amari’s target?”

Nakagawa Shoichi, the “N” in the NASA and HANA clubs, creator of the “True Conservative Policy Study Group,” and like Mr. Amari a confidante of Mr. Aso, lambasted Mr. Fukuda in remarks in Hokkaido Saturday, criticizing “do-nothing politics” and the “do-nothing prime minister.”

The context of his remarks was a call for greater economic stimulus that includes tax cuts on investments and financial flows (echoing METI’s plan for tax reform that encourages Japanese companies to repatriate profits earned abroad).

Nevertheless, the message is unmistakable: Mr. Nakagawa and other conservatives are clearly interested in damaging Mr. Fukuda’s image in the hope of pushing his numbers down to the threshhold identified by Mr. Amari.

But apparently I was wrong to think that pressure on Mr. Fukuda would take the form of an “anonymous” whisper campaign, because far from being something as subtle as a whisper campaign, Mr. Nakagawa opted for a frontal assault against the prime minister.

I doubt that this will be the last we hear from the conservatives. They clearly smell the blood in the water. And Mr. Aso appears to be helping his own cause by refusing to let the furor over MAFF Minister Ota Seiichi’s remarks die.

So who’s next? Suga Yoshihide, the “S” in the NASA club (who still holds a party leadership post as vice chairman of the LDP’s election strategy committee)? Or Abe Shinzo himself? I expect, however, that being a member of the Machimura faction Mr. Abe will receive a stern reprimand from Mr. Mori should he join the chorus. Not that that would stop him.

The point is that this appears to be only the beginning of a conservative campaign to undermine Mr. Fukuda’s image in the hope of driving him out. The question remains whether the prime minister will exercise his nuclear option — calling a general election — instead of yielding to pressure to step down.

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