Who will lead the LDP?

Masuzoe Yoichi, the upper house member who I recently listed as the obvious front runner in the race to replace Aso Taro as LDP president, said Wednesday that he would not seek the position.

Masuzoe cited his responsibility as a member of the ruling cabinet for the party’s defeat as his reason for not seeking the position — although Jiji suggests that Masuzoe’s candidacy faced opposition from within the party, not surprisingly given that Masuzoe has been stubbornly independent even as an LDP member. (Incidentally, it is worth recalling as Masuzoe prepares to leave office that he actually managed to serve in the same post from the reshuffled Abe cabinet in August 2007 — which he joined after criticizing the prime minister following the upper house election defeat — until the present, a remarkable run considering the circumstances.)

Masuzoe was joined by Koike Yuriko in bowing out from the race: the former defense minister said Wednesday that she would not seek the post for the second year in a row, citing her weakened status as a “zombie” politician, in the Diet only by virtue of proportional representation after losing her seat.

Ishihara Nobuteru, another potential front runner, remains noncommittal about running in the race.

For those who ultimately decide to run, it will be a harder race — and harder to ascertain the outcome in advance. To compensate for the dramatic decline in the number of LDP Diet members, the LDP will give its prefectural chapters 300 votes in the election. The chapters will each receive a minimum of three votes, with the remaining 159 votes distributed proportionally on the basis of the number of votes in a chapter. Combined with the 200 votes of Diet members, 500 votes will determine the next LDP president.

Between the decline of the factions and the tremendous power that will be wielded by the prefectural chapters, the outcome will be difficult to predict. But given the manner in which the prefectural votes will be distributed, the race could be won by a candidate popular in urban areas capable of getting (presumably discouraged) party members in populous prefectures out to vote in large numbers.

It appears as if we are witnessing the birth pangs of a new LDP. Nakagawa Hidenao, renewing his fight to make a new LDP, writes that the first step to the LDP’s rebirth is the dissolution of the factions. Whether or not they are officially dissolved, the age of factional politics appears at an end. Instead we will be witnessing a renewed period of ideological conflict within the LDP, conflict that will often fall along geographical lines. As a member of the former Tanigaki faction now in the Koga faction said, since Koizumi’s bid to make the LDP an urban party destroyed the party’s provincial base, the next LDP leader ought not to come from an urban district. It seems to me that this kind of thinking assumes that it is possible to resurrect the “conservative kingdoms,” if only the LDP reorients itself to a rural base, ignoring the mounting evidence that in the present age floating voters are everywhere — and that Komeito has become an indispensable LDP support group, which happens to be closer to the DPJ in policy terms, is in even worse straits than the LDP after its entire leadership went down to absolute defeat Sunday thanks to the decision not to run simultaneously for PR seats, and is publicly reconsidering the nature of its partnership with the LDP.

It seems that perhaps the most essential quality for the LDP’s next leader is the ability and willingness to work closely with Komeito on a new path to power, lest the party forfeit even more support than it already has.

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