The path to a New Liberal Democratic Party

Fresh after barely escaping with his political life, Nakagawa Hidenao — who you will recall failed to unseat Aso Taro as LDP leader in July and then stressed that the DPJ would destroy Japan and had to be stopped — has announced that he wants to stand in the election to succeed Aso as LDP leader.

Nakagawa is nothing if not pugnacious, which might be a good quality to have as leader of the opposition, but by the same token his pugnaciousness has not endeared him to other members of the LDP. And it is unclear whether there are enough members of his so-called “Rising Tide” school to propel him onward to victory, let alone in the party’s prefectural chapters. But given the disarray within the LDP, he should have plenty of time to campaign around the country in the hope that he can win on the back of support from the party’s grassroots.

Presumably the field will also include Ishiba Shigeru — Ishiba has in fact already indicated that he will run — and Ishihara Nobuteru, both candidates from last year, and possibly upper house member Masuzoe Yoichi. And I expect the field to get even more crowded before too long.

Either of the latter might be better at uniting a broken party, because that, after all, is the primary task facing the party’s next leader. I don’t just mean broken from the election, but broken at its very core, divided among ideological camps, factions, and policy tribes. The new leader will have to reforge the LDP as a top-down, centralized party. He (or she?) will have to remake the party’s institutions, perhaps copying the DPJ by turning the general council into a Next Cabinet, converting the policy research council into a party think tank that depends more on ties to academics and researchers outside government than the bureaucrats upon which the PRC has long depended, and perhaps setting up a troika-style system of collective leadership that will enable to party leadership to push back against backbenchers — no matter how senior — inclined to disregard the party. In the process, the LDP, very much like the DPJ during the early part of this decade, will have to navigate between the options of unflinching resistance to the governing DPJ and “constructive” opposition to the government. How long before commentators begin discussing how the LDP is nothing but an internally divided, pale imitation of the governing DPJ? But such is the nature of two-large-party systems in modern democracies, especially in Europe, although if Nakagawa wins the party leadership the LDP’s opposition to the DPJ might be a bit more foam-flecked, like the US Republican Party’s opposition to the Obama administration.

The LDP clearly has a path back to power, sooner or later. The faster it gets on with the process of becoming a new model party, the shorter that road will be. I, for one, do not expect the road to be short.

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