Ishihara Nobuteru (52), the last hope of the LDP’s younger members, bowed out of the upcoming LDP presidential election on Saturday, clearing the way for Tanigaki Sadakazu (64), who has entered the race as the preferred candidate of the party’s elders. Tanigaki will likely face Ishiba Shigeru and possibly Kono Taro (46), who has expressed interest in running and is undoubtedly a rising star in the party but is perhaps too young to assemble a winning coalition in time for this month’s election. If the LDP is going to change, it won’t be as the result of generational change within the party.
The LDP’s “Rebirth Council,” discussed here, has already backed away from harsh criticism of the factions and their leaders. If anything, the demographics favor the LDP’s elders. 40% of the party’s winners are over 60, the average age of the party’s Diet members rose to 56.6, and Diet members who have won seven or more elections outnumber those who have won one to three elections 38 to 30, with the remaining 51 having won between four and six elections. In other words, too many leaders, not enough followers — and the leaders are not about to bow to the followers.
What of the prospects for party reform should Tanigaki win, and given the number of votes given to party chapters his victory is far from assured? Probably modest at best. The gist of Tanigaki’s remarks is that he will try to please everyone as the party prepares for next year’s upper house election: the young have a role to play, the factions should not be dissolved but should play a different role, and senior leaders should spend more time traveling the country speaking with voters. As Jun Okumura suggests, having the dovish Tanigaki as opposition leader might signal less of a policy departure than meets the eye: Amari Akira, a member of Aso’s cabinet and one of the outgoing prime minister’s lieutenants, said Friday that Tanigaki is the right man for the job. Yamamoto Ichita, one of the party’s young reformists, would prefer a generational change but had nice things to say about Tanigaki’s qualities as a politician.
Tanigaki would soften the party’s image, but it seems unlikely that he would demand much or receive much in the way of internal reorganization. Tanigaki strikes me as the candidate of as little change as the party elders perceive as necessary for the LDP to retake power. By comparison, Ishiba is offering something more radical — he is not, for example, holding back from labeling the factions as outdated.