Aso’s big weekend

The LDP’s parliamentarians are gathering to vote for the next party president at this very moment, but the outcome is all but assured.

Thirty of forty-seven LDP prefectural chapters voted over the weekend, and those thirty gave all but six of their ninety votes to Mr. Aso.

Koike Yuriko received zero votes. Ishiba Shigeru received all three of his home prefecture’s (Tottori) votes, plus one from neighboring Shimane prefecture. Yosano Kaoru and Ishihara Nobuteru received one apiece, from Tokushima and Nara respectively.

There is little doubting Mr. Aso’s popularity among the LDP’s rank-and-file members. There is no question that the parliamentary party will confirm the choice of party’s chapters in this afternoon’s voting, awarding Mr. Aso the presidency after the first round of voting.

Of course, Mr. Aso’s landslide victory serves only to heighten the tension between the parliamentary party and the party’s grassroots. Will the party’s rival schools of thought — represented by Mr. Aso’s rival candidates — be cowed by Mr. Aso’s lopsided victory? Koizumism appears to have little place in the party’s grassroots, even in Tokyo, in which Mr. Koizumi won an overwhelming victory in 2005.

Mr. Aso is moving quickly to consolidate his grip on the party. He has already indicated that he will ask Hosoda Hiroyuki, a six-term lower house member from the Machimura faction, to serve as LDP secretary-general. Mr. Hosoda served as Mr. Koizumi’s chief cabinet secretary from 2004-2005 (he succeeded Fukuda Yasuo and preceded Abe Shinzo in that post) and had previously served in the Koizumi cabinet as minister without portfolio for technology policy and Okinawa and the Northern Territories policy. He shares Mr. Aso’s interest in promoting high technology. His Wikipedia entry also notes that US policymakers are in awe of him: Former US Ambassador Howard Baker, meeting with him to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program, thought he was a nuclear engineer; Condoleeza Rice, having negotiated with Mr. Hosoda while he was CCS, said “He’s so smart.”

One factor in Mr. Hosoda’s appointment is undoubtedly his membership in the Machimura faction; Mr. Aso is obviously repaying his debt to Mori Yoshiro for his support of his candidacy. But will Mr. Hosoda be an asset on the campaign trail? One factor in his favor is that he represents the first district of sparsely populated, poor Shimane prefecture. Mr. Hosoda has had considerable electoral success, winning with nearly twice as many votes as his nearest rival in the four elections under the new electoral system. Whether he would be able to use that personal popularity in support of LDP candidates in similar districts remains to be seen.

Mr. Aso’s cabinet has yet to take form, although it appears that Mr. Yosano and Mr. Ishiba will both accept Mr. Aso’s offer to serve. I imagine that Mr. Aso will do as best as he can to form a unity cabinet. The question is whether his ideological rivals are prepared to commit to an Aso-led “populist” government.

UPDATE: The final vote total from the prefectural chapters is available here.

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