Friday, December 28, 2007

Interesting Times

Shisaku has a quick analysis of the rollback of the conservative legislative agenda of last year. Prime minister Abe enacted or tried to enact a number of very reactionary pieces of legislation, from whitewashing aspects of Japanese world war history to mandating teaching of "love of your country" in schools. Last summer, of course, the wheels fell off his government, the opposition won a majority in the upper house and he was replaced by Fukuda, the current prime minister. Who, in order to remain in power, has been rolling back much of the conservative agenda over the past six months.

The reactionary conservatives went too fast with too little support, reaching for more than they had a mandate for and with a government that in retrospect was too inexperienced and too unstable to withstand the pressure. They lost the Abe government, their intended instrument of change. And now, in order to even stay in power, the current government has had to roll back almost every gain they managed during the last year.

So, what will be their reaction? The LDP has often (and with some justification) been critizised for being interested in power, pure and simple, rather than in any particular political results. And for once, it seems it's the far right, rather than the centrists, that feel the pinch. They could, I guess, do one of three things:

* Push the party rightward again. Oust Fukuda and put another pliant government in place. Of course, the government relies on New Komeito, a small third party for support and it's not at all clear how far they are willing to continue that support with their own voter base dwindling. They also do not have control over the upper house so a simple majority is no longer enough for the more controversial legislation. And of course, a continued push towards a nationalistic right risks seeing LDP lose even more seats in the next election. They could win the party and lose the country.

* Break out and form their own party. It's been done before, in many parties, in many countries. It usually ends up with the breakout party marginalized and losing all support as the previous mother party soaks up most of the base the breakout party relied on. Or worse, if they manage to form a resilient right-wing party it will erode the LDP support base, virtually guarantee an electoral victory for the opposition.

* Let it be. Realize the window of opportunity is closed for now. Lick wounds, apportion blame, engage in a refreshing bout of internal power politics. Start work to slowly resolidify power base within LDP. The next opportunity will come soon enough. Of course, we're not talking about the most patient people in the world here, and a fair number of the high-profile people are aged enough not to have another chance to look forward to. You'd risk the power politics to blow up into civil war within the factions, destroying a lot of credibility among the supporters and pushing that window of opportunity very far indeed into the future.

In any case I agree with Shisaku that Japan dodged a bullet here.

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