Following up on both his previous dismissal of Koike Yuriko’s prospects and his endorsement of Aso Taro, Mori Yoshiro said of Nakagawa Hidenao’s promotion — he being one of the faction’s three titular leaders — of Ms. Koike, “The position of the daihyo sewanin [Mr. Nakagawa’s difficult-to-translate title] of pushing (Ms. Koike) to the fore is a bit of a problem.”
“He says ‘a candidate must stand on behalf of the reformists,’ but is not Secretary-General Aso a reformist?”
Whatever you want to call Mr. Aso — I agree with Jun Okumura that it is far too simplistic to dismiss Mr. Aso with the word “conservative,” not because he isn’t, but because the label conceals more than it reveals — the LDP’s reform school clearly does not view him as one of their own and is desperate for an alternative. Indeed, their desperation can be seen in the fears of the Koizumi kids, as they sense that Fukuda Yasuo’s resignation and the chaos it has engendered can only hurt them in the eyes of the public. For the Koizumi kids, this party leadership election may represent one last chance to pick a leader who will enable them to go before their constituents and declare that reform lives.
But the reform school is not the only LDP group desperately seeking an anyone-but-Aso candidate.
Yamasaki Taku, Kato Koichi, and Koga Makoto, three doyens of the LDP’s once-dominant mainstream conservatism (which in the contemporary context makes them the LDP’s liberals, in Mr. Kato’s own reckoning), met Wednesday to discuss an anti-Aso candidate. It is worth noting that despite Messrs. Yamasaki and Koga being faction heads, the article notes that they spoke as individuals, implying that they were not speaking on behalf of their factions.
It seems that we are witnessing a post-faction LDP presidential election, less than a year after the Fukuda election in which conventional wisdom proclaimed that the factions were back in control. This campaign is already breaking down along ideological lines, not factional lines. As I’ve argued previously, the relevant groupings are not the factions but the ideological study groups and associations that cross factional lines. Mr. Aso’s campaign rests not on his twenty-member faction — which conveniently has enough members to nominate him as a candidate — but on the party-wide network of conservatives that backed his candidacy last year in defiance of their faction heads and who subsequently organized (in part) under the aegis of Nakagawa Shoichi’s “True Conservative Policy Research Group.” Similarly, Mr. Nakagawa’s Koizumians, while clustered within the Machimura faction, can also be found in other factions and among the party’s independent members. The liberals, such as they exist, are also found in more than one faction.
Seeing how this LDP presidential election campaign is unfolding, I think it is safe to assume that the recommendations of faction heads will have little or no role in determining how the LDP’s parliamentarians vote on Sept. 22. Ideology, not faction will determine who the LDP chooses.
I still think Mr. Aso will emerge at the top based both on his support at the grassroots and the strength of the conservatives in the contemporary LDP — who are hungry to reclaim what they lost when Abe Shinzo resigned, but the LDP that emerges on Sept. 22 will not be the same LDP that existed at the moment of Mr. Fukuda’s resignation.
UPDATE: I should add that in addition to the three major ideological groupings there is the cautious bulk of the LDP parliamentary party, which will give its allegiance to no camp but the one that appears to be the most beneficial for their electoral prospects. I think Mr. Mori, with his mission of preserving LDP dominance, best speaks for this segment, which is why I think Mr. Aso will prevail. Mr. Aso may be the less risky choice — at least for the average LDP member — come the next general election.