What I find most striking is that fifty-five of the LDP’s winners are hereditary members, constituting 46.5% of the party’s new caucus. By comparison, of the DPJ’s 308 winners, only thirty-two (10.4%) are hereditary Diet members. The DPJ majority truly signifies the arrival of fresh blood into the political system, even as the LDP has become even more colored by its political princes. (Of course this outcome makes the LDP’s pre-election debate about banning hereditary members look farcical.)
As MTC astutely noted well before the election, how will the LDP’s new leaders discipline the party when some many of its members survived by distancing themselves from the party and campaigning on the basis of their name or other personal qualities? As Tanaka Makiko quipped, the Jiminto (LDP) has become a collection of Jibunto (personal parties) even more than it was before the election.
The result, of course, will be greater conflict among the party leaders who survived, all of whom have different visions for how the LDP should act in opposition. Abe Shinzo, naturally seeing the defeat as an opportunity to reinsert himself into the center of the party, suggested that the LDP will press the DPJ hard, although I suspect that will mostly mean criticizing the DPJ from the hard right, which, as the Abe government’s 2007 defeat showed, is hardly an effective means of attacking the DPJ.
It may be a bad thing that so many LDP heavyweights survived. Abe, Aso, Fukuda, and Mori all survived, as did Nakagawa Hidenao, who was defeated in his electoral district but revived in PR. The post-election LDP may be cursed with too many leaders and too few followers. That is the significance of the defeat of the Koizumi children, only ten of whom survived (out of seventy-seven). Nakagawa is convinced that his survival through PR was a matter of destiny, and presumably he will be even less reluctant to make his opinions about the party’s conduct known. Overall, the LDP may be just as divided, just smaller, with fewer new faces (and new ideas) in the mix. Only five LDP winners are first-timers.
Meanwhile, the factions really may be finished. The Machimura faction, which has dominated the LDP for the past decade, fell from sixty-one to twenty-three seats in the lower house, leaving it with fifty between the two houses. The Tsushima faction fell to one-third of its pre-election strength in the lower house, to fourteen seats, leaving it with thirty-seven between the two. The Koga faction’s strength was nearly halved, to twenty-five, leaving it with thirty-four between the two houses. The Nikai faction suffered most, falling to one in the lower house (Nikai himself) and three between the two houses. All are smaller, and of little value to their remaining members.
What lesson will the LDP learn from the DPJ’s battle in opposition against the LDP? That saying no can be effective? If that’s the lesson the LDP learns, it is in for a long spell in opposition — because the DPJ did not win the support of the Japanese public just by saying no to the LDP, but by saying no and suggesting that the LDP’s priorities were completely wrong.
The LDP will have to find a way to win independents: there will be no other way back into power. Exit polls found that more than fifty percent of independents supported the DPJ, certainly a major factor — perhaps the major factor — in the DPJ’s victory, although the DPJ also took thirty percent of LDP supporters. (Incidentally, the exit polls also showed that the absence of JCP candidates was another important factor in the DPJ’s victory, confirming that the JCP ought to bear some of the blame for prolonging LDP rule.) Inevitably it will win some back as the DPJ disappoints the public, but for the LDP to return as a serious contender for power (that’s a weird phrase) at some point the LDP will have to come up with a reason for the voters to take it seriously as a governing party again. It will have to make more than rhetorical gestures in the direction of the issues of greatest concern to the voting public. Having a younger, well-spoken leader could help too. I am increasingly inclined to see Ishihara Nobuteru as the most likely successor to Aso.