Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Aso Government Death Watch

'Tis a Dark and Stormy night. In the old, run-down house, Aso, the ancient sorcerer (curiously resembling a grumpy potato) is fighting desperately to keep his tortured creation alive, even as the whippoorwills outside sing about its imminent death. Aso looks up in panic as the protective seals and sigils groan and weaken when an indescribable eldritch horror - formed in the darkest reaches of space, forged from the pain and anguish of a million betrayed LDP supporters - inexorably forces its way inside to reach the tortured ..thing that still agonizingly moves on the granite slab in some cruel mockery of life and reclaim it as one of its own.

Aaanyway, we're well into the Aso government death-watch in other words, and possibly (only possibly) the end of LDP as the dominant force in Japanese politics. Right now we have three elections and three dates to consider.

First, on July 12, the Tokyo metropolitan area holds their local elections. Yes, they're "local", but it's greater Tokyo we're talking about. They matter a lot, and they're widely seen as a bellwether for the national election.

Second, we have the upcoming national Lower House election, which must be held in early September at the latest (though the election date could apparently be prolonged into October). The exact date is decided by Prime Minister Aso.

Third, the term of office for Aso himself expires on September 30, and he has to stand for re-election as party leader in the LDP no later than that. He is hugely impopular even within his own party by now, and a fair amount of LDP members want to push him out and elect a new leader before

One question is basically if Aso calls the election before the Tokyo elections or after. Coalition partner New Komeito is dead set against calling it before, as they don't want to fight two election campaigns at the same time in the Tokyo area, but their clout with the LDP may well be on the wane.

If Aso calls them early enough he can schedule the election to August 8, during the Obon holidays. At that time many, many people return to their family villages to see their old folks and visit the family graves. And since you can't vote by post or by proxy here, it means a lot of city folks (who tends to support the opposition) will not be able to vote, while the rural population (who tends to support the LDP) can. This would be sneaky and underhanded - and frankly a creative, well-played political strategy, as long as it doesn't ruffle feathers enough to cause a public backlash.

The other alternative would be an election in early September. This would give the economic mood a bit more time to improve and perhaps lift the LDP approval ratings along with it. Of course, waiting as long as possible risk looking like Aso has no grip on the situation and is unable to take initiative.

The wild card really is how long Aso can stay in office. On one hand, most LDP members recognize that they'd stand a greater chance with the Kuidaore Tarō doll as their prime minister candidate than with Aso at the helm.

On the other hand, switching the Prime Minister for a fourth time in a row, just a month or two before the election, would come across as a cynical, transparent attempt at manipulating voter sentiment for short term electoral gain. It might actually hurt the party even worse than keeping Aso around - also, I suspect that Aso's accession was an attempt to do the same thing, and look just how well that's turned out.

Still, things have gotten bad enough that Aso apparently no longer is in full control over his own cabinet anymore. And last week some high-level LDP people even asked a popular governor and former comedian Higashikokobaru to run for a seat on the LDP ticket, who responded he'd run if he'd be a candidate for the party presidency. This did not sit well with the exisisting LDP members and underscores how the LDP is lacking in any kind of actual leadership. edit: Shisaku has a good, oven-fresh post on these events.

But the Prime Minister has the nuclear option: he, and only he, calls the election. If calls to push him out get too strident he can always push that button and end it with a political bang as it were. Consider his position: well into his 70's, at the topmost post he's ever going to hold, and most likely the last post no matter what happens. He may well want to go out fighting and go in history as the last prime minister of the LDP era, rather than be recorded as Temporary Nobody #3 in the row of short-term prime minister stand-ins.

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