An LDP upset in the making?

The LDP continues to set the tone in the non-campaign campaign. Speaking in Hiroshima on the occasion of the sixty-fourth anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb, Prime Minister Aso Taro stressed the existence of “a country with nuclear weapons that could attack as our neighbor,” and reiterated the importance of the US nuclear umbrella. That Aso stressed the US nuclear umbrella ought to deflate the impact of the first statement somewhat: if the US nuclear umbrella is adequate to meet the North Korean nuclear arsenal, then the prime minister is suggesting that North Korea can be dealt with in the same way that Japan has dealt with the Russian and Chinese nuclear arsenals. But, of course, Aso’s purpose was to call attention to North Korea as a country THAT COULD ATTACK Japan rather than his suggestion that the North Korea could be managed via the same arrangement by which the much larger and sophisticated Russian and Chinese arsenals have been contained.

In other words, another day of the LDP’s playing on the public’s fears to make its case for a new mandate.

Aso was delivering the same message on a different front in Shimane and Okayama Wednesday, when he attacked the DPJ for its position on a US-Japan FTA. Exhibiting the LDP’s full-out reversion to agricultural protectionism — discussed here by Aurelia George Mulgan — Aso stressed, “Agriculture is the foundation of the nation.” It is difficult to know whether the LDP’s attack on this front is having the desired effect, but I have to figure that the LDP has at least convinced the newly born rural floating voters to think a bit longer about whether to cast their votes for the DPJ. And after a few more weeks? The LDP may have found a winning formula: “The DPJ: it will leave Japan vulnerable to attack and destroy your livelihood.” The message seems to be, national defense and some talk of economic growth (and the “once-in-a-century-economic-crisis-originating-from-America”) for voters in urban and surburban areas, out-and-out protectionism in rural areas. To a certain extent the LDP is conceding seats to the LDP in urban areas — how much energy is Aso really exerting on behalf of first-termer Koizumi children? — in the hope that an all-out campaign in the countryside can deprive the DPJ of the seats in places where it needs to gain the most ground from past elections. It is trying to neutralize the DPJ’s Ozawa-engineered shift to a national strategy complete with a message for rural areas.

And now in the face of the first assault by the LDP the DPJ has stumbled. As Ikeda Nobuo argues, the DPJ has diluted what was a coherent and “strategic” policy designed to destroy what he calls the LDP’s “Matsuoka” legacy of particularistic support for inefficient part-time farmers. Okada Katsuya tried to answer the LDP’s attack in a press conference in Mie prefecture Wednesday, in which he stated that this matter is simply the LDP’s norin zoku stirring up trouble. Not good enough, Mr. Okada. Complaining about the source of the criticism does nothing to blunt the criticism in the eyes of voters. The DPJ has to meet the criticism directly and explain, over and over again, why it’s wrong, how the DPJ intends to both support mostly older small farmers and promote the transformation of Japanese agriculture through trade liberalization.

[As an aside, it bears mentioning what the LDP is doing here. The LDP is basically saying that the DPJ will destroy the livelihood of farmers by opening the domestic market to the country responsible for defending them from attack. It bears mentioning that the DPJ’s proposal is aimed precisely at the fundamental principle of the US-LDP alliance, that security comes first and that economics should be isolated from the alliance or not discussed at all. The LDP’s friends in Washington have been all to happy to push this line, especially after the revisionist excesses of the early 1990s. But presumably there is some happy medium between paying scant attention to the economic dimension of the relationship and a virtual trade war.]

Time will tell whether the LDP’s political strategy will bear fruit. But politically speaking, sowing doubt and exploiting fear is perhaps the only way the LDP can with this general election. It certainly cannot win on the basis of its policy achievements since 2005.

One thought on “An LDP upset in the making?

  1. AC

    Good post.It's been obvious for several months that the LDP would have no choice but to run a negative campaign against the DPJ and that foreign policy (if you want to call \”We're tougher on North Korea\” \”foreign policy\”) would be one of the lines of attack. Why is the DPJ not ready to counter this? As for the proposed US-Japan FTA, that was an unforced error of epic proportions. Who in the world thought it would be a good idea to put an FTA in the manifesto? Did they think it would win them more votes than it would cost? Is there any country in the world where that would be true?The DPJ desperately needs to go on the offensive and charge the LDP in no uncertain terms of endangering Japan's future through its misrule. Take offense. Show some outrage. Stop playing small ball.


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