Japan from the inside out

Aso is next, says Mori Yoshiro

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 18, 2008

IF ANY PROFESSOR of political science were to write a textbook explaining how not to conduct the affairs of a political party, he might profitably spend his time reviewing the career of former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro, now an elder statesmen of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, backroom string-puller, and de facto skipper of what is looking more every day like the Mudboat-maru.

Aso Taro (L) and Mori Yoshiro (R)

Aso Taro (L) and Mori Yoshiro (R)

Mr. Mori assumed the role of prime minister in unusual circumstances after a stroke incapacitated (and eventually killed) former Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo. He was so unsuited for the job that his public approval rating plummeted to the single-digit level less than a year later. His ineptitude so alarmed the LDP rank and file that they replaced him with the Japanese equivalent of a political outsider, Koizumi Jun’ichiro. (Mr. Koizumi’s subsequent success is an important lesson that the clods in the LDP mudboat wing have, astonishingly enough, yet to grasp.)

In 2005, when then-Prime Minister Koizumi planned to dissolve the lower house of the Diet and call for an election as a referendum on his postal privatization plan, Mr. Mori reportedly begged him in tears to reconsider. Mr. Koizumi ignored his advice and won the second-highest majority in postwar history.

Now, on Sunday, Mr. Mori held forth on the political situation on a TV Asahi current affairs program:

“(Party Secretary General) Aso (Taro) has interesting things to say, and there’s no question that will be more widely accepted by the public than the lifeless talk of Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo…Our party must make the greatest use of Aso’s popularity. I think many people (in the party) feel that ‘Mr. Aso should be next’ (as prime minister). Of course, I think so too.”

Of course.

In regard to the timing of the next election, he said,

“That is the prime minister’s decision. While we don’t have anything to say about it, the current Diet will be seated until September 2009. We can’t put that to waste.”

Well, isn’t that just ducky!

Mr. Mori was the man who helped put all the ducks in a row for Mr. Fukuda last year in the intraparty election to choose Abe Shinzo’s successor. Now, less than a year later, he has turned Prime Minister Fukuda into the lamest of ducks just two weeks after a Cabinet reshuffle. Was it intentional or accidental? Was Mr. Fukuda privately displaying a reluctance to step down? In any event, it was incompetent.

Just how does he expect Prime Minister Fukuda to fulfill his duties and achieve the goals of his new Cabinet when everyone in Japan knows he is about to be replaced? This is not necessarily surprising news—the media has been buzzing with rumors for the past two weeks that the prime minister would “abdicate” in favor of Mr. Aso in the not-too-distant future. Last week, the Sunday Mainichi magazine reported that Mr. Mori let it slip at a party gathering in Tokyo just one day before the Cabinet reshuffle that “Aso would be next”.

It would be one thing if this were the operating assumption for those in the political class, but now the press and the public know it. How does he expect Mr. Fukuda to deal with the mass media and the political opposition for the rest of his term? How does he expect the Fukuda government to accomplish anything?

Political maneuvering notwithstanding, it was also a graceless act on Mr. Mori’s part. Regardless of what one thinks of Mr. Fukuda as a politician, he seems to be a decent man. But Mr. Mori has now belittled him for no reason at all and dismissed him as a mere placeholder.

Just how has a man that has so often demonstrated such a lack of political acumen and personal charm managed to retain a position of such influence within the party? (Does he really have the ability to funnel that much money to other party members?)

With people such as Mr. Mori calling the shots, the LDP surely will turn into a mudboat unless a white knight leads the cavalry (or the lifeboats) to the rescue at the last moment. That white knight will probably not be Aso Taro, regardless of his popularity; some Japanese psephologists are already predicting a defeat for the LDP in the next election even with Mr. Aso as prime minister.

It would seem the only question remaining for Prime Minister Fukuda is when he will be asked to go. The Sunday Mainichi also reported that Mr. Fukuda doesn’t want to be relieved of his duties until after he has spent more time in office than Abe Shinzo. That calculates to 26 September.

In addition, LDP coalition partner New Komeito is said to want to avoid a national election next summer because it will hamper their efforts in local Tokyo elections next year. That has fueled speculation of a Diet dissolution and election in December or January.

But hold on: There are also rumors that the LDP and the Democratic Party of Japan, the primary opposition grouping, are still holding secret, top-level talks about forming a grand coalition, despite the problems such talk created for both parties last fall.

This time, however, the parties are said to be discussing the elimination of the seats allocated by proportional representation in the lower house of the Diet. Every district would be represented by the first (or second) candidate past the post. That would effectively eliminate the political influence of both New Komeito (and Japan’s Communist Party) at the national level; most of their members in the Diet owe their seats to proportional representation. It would also come very close to turning the more powerful lower house into a two-party chamber.

Unfortunately, the possibility is growing for some rather morbid symptoms to emerge in Japanese politics over the intermediate term. A political realignment might prevent that from happening, but no one seems to want to take the first step.

But the fear of drowning may yet cause some desperate people to clutch at that straw after all.

7 Responses to “Aso is next, says Mori Yoshiro”

  1. […] to resign less than a year after taking office. I wonder if Ampotan was correct when he said that Mori Yoshiro had completely cut off Fukuda’s power by saying Aso was going to be the next PM of Japan…. […]

  2. Aceface said

    Fukuda has resigned.

  3. Bender said

    Japanese politics…sucks. That’s the only word I can think of.

  4. ampontan said


    “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” – Antonio Gramsci

    There’s all sorts of interesting things going on. Whether they will lead to anything is a different story.

  5. tomojiro said

    “Japanese politics…sucks. That’s the only word I can think of.”

    I agree with every single word in this phrase.

  6. Ken said

    Japanese politics…peace.
    It makes no difference to the people in the long run whoever becomes prime minister.
    We can count on the people who do not go this way and that way no matter who is in the saddle.
    On the other hand, I predict Ex-PM Koizumi will maneuver behind the scenes for Koike Yuriko.
    I do not like the weathercock but prefer her background of Koizumi reform to Asou’s rollbackers.

  7. […] to resign less than a year after taking office. I wonder if Ampotan was correct when he said that Mori Yoshiro had completely cut off Fukuda’s power by saying Aso was going to be the next PM of […]

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