Aso will fight on

The anti-Asō rebellion was over before it even began.

Instead of a meeting of LDP Diet members that would meet today and debate whether to hold a party presidential election before a general election — thereby undoing the prime minister’s plan for a 21 July dissolution — the LDP executive agreed to an informal, closed gathering of Diet members that will meet for two hours before the House of Representatives is dissolved on Tuesday. The party leaders claimed that Nakagawa Hidenao’s petition fell short of the necessary 128 signatures to force a general meeting. Asō Tarō will attend, to “listen” to the opinions of LDP members. Presumably he will be apologetic for the party’s electoral defeats and promise to try harder in the coming weeks, giving the meeting the air of a self-criticism session. (Hence its being held behind closed doors, as suggested by Yamamoto Ichita.) Then he will walk from LDP headquarters down the street to the Kokkai — a victory strut of sorts? — and dissolve the lower house as planned.

The opposition has not folded entirely, but it has been deflated considerably. After urging the prime minister to resign, Yosano Kaoru, the finance minister, declared that he is satisfied with the decision to convene an informal meeting. Ishiba Shigeru, the agriculture minister, similarly voiced his support for the prime minister, and like Yosano argued that the meeting will be an important first step for the party to unite under Asō.

The leaders of the movement now have to decide what to do next. Do they leave the party? Form a new party? Genuflect before Asō and the party leadership and promise to campaign hard for the LDP? Develop a separate manifesto while remaining under the LDP banner? Hatoyama Kunio, after having been unceremoniously dumped from the cabinet by the prime minister he had long stood by, now rivals Nakagawa as the prime minister’s fiercest critic. At a press conference Friday, he spoke of forming an independent “group” within the LDP and said he would gladly form a new party if ordered to leave. (In other words: “You can’t throw me out, I quit!”)

Meanwhile, Nakagawa tried to resubmit the petition Friday but was rejected — and then disparaged the party’s “compromise” as the worst possible outcome. He has given no hint to his plans. Kato Koichi, who in recent weeks emerged as a key Nakagawa ally, appears to have let Nakagawa do the talking, but I suspect that Kato is not long for the party anyway.

Takebe Tsutomu, no less outspoken in his opposition to the government, was explicitly told to leave the party by Oshima Tadamori.

Watanabe Yoshimi is eagerly waiting to welcome LDP exiles to his yet-to-be-named party, which is set to be born after the Diet is dissolved. Watanabe has reportedly been in discussions with Hatoyama Kunio and Hiranuma Takeo, the latter of whom is in the process of creating his long-discussed conservative party. An alliance is not necessarily in the works, although were the two to link up, it would basically result in an Abe-ist party. After watching the opposition to Asō fold over recent days, however, it is hard to see how many LDP members will leave to join either Watanabe or Hiranuma. Some might — Takebe, for example — but few seem to have the fortitude showed by Nagasaki Kotaro, who upped and left at the start of this week. It seems that candidates concerned about running under Asō’s leadership will simply do the best they can to distance themselves from the prime minister without leaving the party.

As for Nakagawa, it is appropriate that onetime rebel Kato (“the ghost of rebellions past”) became Nakagawa’s ally in his fight against Asō, because Kato’s present may be Nakagawa’s future. Nakagawa has spent so much energy on trying to change the LDP and seems incapable of leaving the party. It’s possible that he will remain in the party, isolated, another man who could have been king (or at least could have taken down the king).

And in the meantime, the LDP marches to what looks like certain defeat under its battered leader.

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