The elusive Nakagawa Hidenao

Will the Machimura faction live to fight the next election after all?

Nakagawa Hidenao, a member of the triumvirate that leads the faction and a leading critic of Mr. Aso, was defiant in the face of criticism from Mori Yoshiro, don of the faction, seeing no reason for stepping down from the triumvirate. He denied claims that he was “rebelling” against the prime minister, and insisted on unity in faction and party before the forthcoming election.

Despite signs of moving to an irreparable break, however, it seems that the Machimura faction has decided to postpone the debate over the faction’s leadership, for fear of damage to government and party.

Yamamoto Ichita, a member of the faction, claims that a majority of the faction’s are not loyal to one side or the other but are perfectly capable of accepting different leaders simultaneously. He then reports that the media is to blame for stirring up talk of a split in the faction.

Maybe so, but perhaps the faction really is just a microcosm of the LDP. Just as potential LDP defectors are determined to stay put until a general election is held, so too might the breakup of the Machimura faction be on hold until after a general election. Given the number of seats the party expects to lose, it is not inconceivable that the party’s internal balance of power could be completely redrawn by the distribution of losing seats.

For his part, Mr. Nakagawa appears prepared to stay and fight for mastery of the LDP, even after the election. He may be trying to put on a convincing act to justify his staying in the party through an election, which as MTC noted enables him to pocket his share of public political subsidies (and ensures that he would not face an LDP “assassin” in the election). But I wonder whether he might be serious about staying in the LDP when he writes something like this post, in which he claims that he “wants to raise the flag of a new LDP from within the LDP.” The LDP, he says, should be remade as the party of “honest politics,” compared to the DPJ, honest in its presentation of policies that serve the people, reluctant to engage in the party politics practiced by the DPJ.

While Mr. Nakagawa presents himself as the standard-bearer of economic and political reform, my impression of him is that he is a more committed partisan than he lets on. He did his best to cast the Abe government and its prime minister, under whom he worked as LDP secretary-general, as the natural heir of the Koizumi revolution, its efforts to reform challenged by the Bureaucrats and their allies throughout Japanese society. Similarly, he wrote of Fukuda Yasuo’s “silent” reforms, doing his best to present the beleaguered former prime minister as a silent partner of the Koizumi revolution.

At the same time, few LDP members — as far as I can tell — write with as much vitriol about the DPJ as Mr. Nakagawa. His blog is an ongoing litany of the DPJ’s faults. One recent post asks whether a DPJ government would be an anti-American government (because it would conduct alliance policy differently from the LDP). Another says that “we have heard nothing about how the DPJ will govern” (the DPJ may have more work to do, but nothing?). In directing his attention to the DPJ’s faults, Mr. Nakagawa is in effect making excuses for the LDP. Does he not see the LDP’s own faults? Or are its faults largely the faults of the bureaucrats and their allies within the LDP, which will be fixed once Mr. Nakagawa gets control of the party?

None of this inspires hope in me that Mr. Nakagawa is the man to engineer a political realignment and lead Japan to the next wave of great reforms. Maybe his public commitments to the LDP are just an act. But inside the LDP or out, the man will remain the same. And as far as I can tell, the man is a choleric bulldog, more interested attacking enemies than in doing the hard work of governing.

UPDATE: MTC notes that Jun Okumura deserves credit for the theory that the desire to get a cut of the first quarter of FY2009 political funds is keeping LDP members from defecting. Sorry Jun.

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